I think every country believes in some sort of bad luck, and every country has one or more ways to cope with it or to ward it off. Italy is no exception. So, today I’d like to talk about three Italian ways to ward off bad luck for good.
One of the most common Italian ways to ward off bad luck is toccare ferro, literally to touch iron.
Let’s say your daughter tells you that it’s time for you to change your car since it’s very very old but you think it’s not necessary because it’s still in pretty good shape, you can say:
No, che non la cambio! Tocchiamo ferro, ma la mia macchina è ancora in buono stato.
No, I won’t change it! My car is still in pretty good shape, knock on wood.
The expression toccare ferro is an abbreviation for toccare un ferro di cavallo, literally to touch a horseshoe.
But why in Italy we say toccare ferro, while in other countries the material able to ward off bad luck is legno, wood?
Well, of course no one knows it precisely. However, it can have medieval origins. In fact, in the Middle Ages, people believed that iron could keep witches away. That’s why some people used to hang a horseshoe on the entrance door.
Another legend, links the Italian expression to an English Saint, Saint Dunstan. The legend says that one day Saint Dunstan got a visit from the devil, who ordered him to prepare horseshoes – or goose shoes – for him. The Saint agreed. However, when he was applying the shoe to one of the devil’s feet, the Saint started to hit him with a hammer. Crying in pain, the devil begged him to let him go. Once again, the Saint agreed but on one condition: that the Devil promised he would no longer appear where there was a horseshoe.
Fare le corna
Another common Italian way to ward off bad luck is fare le corna, literally do the horns.
Let’s write the same example about the car we wrote above but with this expression instead:
No, che non la cambio! Facciamo corna, ma la mia macchina è ancora in buono stato.
The origin of the Italian expression fare le corna, probably dates back to many many years ago. It’s thought that humans noticed that animals used their horns to protect themselves and that they worked quite well for that purpose. So, they started to believe that horns were a symbol of strength and protection. And this idea is shared by many different cultures.
Finally, the most peculiar Italian way to ward off bad luck is toccarsi i genitali, touching your genitals. This is something that is usually done by men. Let’s do a new example. Let’s say you’re telling one of your friends that you’ve never been sick in 10 years. You could tell him:
Adesso mi tocco ma io non mi sono mai ammalato in 10 anni
I’ve never been sick in ten years, knock on wood
Or, if someone is kind of bringing bad luck to you, for example by telling you:
Anche se non ti sei mai ammalato, adesso ti prenderai sicuramente il Covid.
Even if you didn’t get sick, now you’ll surely get Covid.
You can, of course, insult him, and while doing that you can touch your genitals to ward off bad luck.
It is thought that the origin of this Italian expression comes from the idea that touching your genitals, gives you some of the power of the Goddess of fertility, who will help you ward off bad luck.
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Original image by BenjaminNelan