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13 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know Were Considered Bad Luck

Updated: Aug. 03, 2023

Could everything from calling a baby cute to pointing out a pretty rainbow bring you misfortune? According to some cultures and traditions, yes!

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Pushing your luck

Even the not-so-superstitious know that breaking a mirror and walking under a ladder can bring bad luck—and here’s the reason so many of us believe those things! But there are plenty of other, lesser-known things that also have a reputation for causing misfortune. Not to freak you out, but you’re probably doing some of them all the time.

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fresh bananas in a wooden crate against a blue sky with clouds on a white background
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Carrying bananas on a ship

Sailors have always been a superstitious bunch. And “bunches,” indeed, were actually one of the things that they considered bad luck to have around on the high seas. In the 1700s, many ships that were lost or shipwrecked while traveling between Spain and the Caribbean happened to be carrying bananas at the time, so having one on board came to mean bad news. Whistling on a ship, too, was also said to bring bad luck, because letting loose a whistle was supposed to present a “challenge” to the wind. The wind would supposedly respond in kind by sending a storm. Check out some more surprising origin stories of common superstitions.

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Woman Blowing Out Candles On Birthday Cake
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Wishing someone a happy birthday before their actual birthday

Want to make an entire weekend of your birthday that falls on a Sunday? In that case, you might not want to celebrate in Germany. That’s because many Germans believe that wishing someone a happy birthday before the day itself will cause misfortune to befall everyone involved. Instead, they follow a tradition called “reinfeiern,” where they get together the night before someone’s birthday and begin celebrating exactly when the clock strikes midnight. Saying “happy birthday” so much as a minute sooner is a major no-no. Learn the scientific reason people believe in superstitions.

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Hand set up white bed sheet in room

Changing your bed on a Friday

According to an old wives’ tale, if you turn a mattress on a Friday, you’ll be cursed with bad dreams. Another variation says that changing your bed on a Sunday is bad news too, so you might just want to avoid replacing your sheets on weekends. Or just try out these things you can do before bed to control what you dream instead.

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Princess yacht's name, close up

Renaming a boat

What could possibly be bad luck about getting a new boat?! Well, if you alter its existing name, you could be tempting fate. This legend dates back to ancient times when sailors believed that the name of every single boat was written down in the immutable ledger of Poseidon. If you dared change the name of a boat, you’d incur the sea god’s wrath. If your boat’s name was one that you absolutely couldn’t stand, however, there was a loophole, according to BoatSafe.com. You could successfully “erase” the old name of the boat from Poseidon’s log by removing all traces of it. This meant everything from the bow of the boat to the life jackets had to be free of the old name. If you dared display the boat’s new name before every last vestige of the old one was gone, you’d be pushing your luck big time.

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Grunge calendar showing Tuesday the thirteenth on wood background
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Tuesday the 13th

Maybe Friday the 13th is a bringer of bad luck; maybe it’s just a matter of perspective. While Anglo-Saxon cultures see Friday the 13th as bad news, in Spain, the 13th day of the month is more unlucky when it falls on a Tuesday. In Spanish, the word for Tuesday is “Martes,” which comes from Mars, the Roman god of war, so Tuesday spells trouble. One thing both cultures agree on, though, is that 13 is an unlucky number. Here’s the real reason the number 13 makes people so nervous.

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Beer glasses with beer on the bar 6

Mixing beers

The Czech Republic is the country that consumes the largest quantity of beer per capita, so it makes sense that there would be some unwritten rules and superstitions associated with having a brew. Supposedly, if you pour one type of beer into a mug containing another type, you’re in for some misfortune. Here are some ways to change your luck that are proven to be a little more reliable.

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Yellow dress and silver purse. Beige heel shoes and bag. Woman's clothing on green shelf. Outfit with handy accessory.

Giving yellow clothes as a gift

Another Spanish bad-luck superstition claims that recipients of saffron-colored garments will experience bad luck. According to Spanish legend, the sulfurous color of yellow is related to black magic or, for the more extremely superstitious, even the Devil himself. If you’re feeling really superstitious, you should avoid wearing yellow altogether, but especially if you’re interviewing for a job, taking a test, or doing something else for which good luck would be beneficial. After all, your outfit color can reveal lots of things about you.

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Cute baby yawning before sleep
Andrii Orlov/Shutterstock

Complimenting a baby

In Serbia, if you say a baby is cute or sweet, you risk dooming the baby to a lifetime of bad luck. Saying it’s ugly instead will keep it safe in the luck department. So in Serbia, there’s essentially no way for parents to tell if someone actually thinks their baby is funny-looking or if they’re just trying to save it from misfortune.

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Theater seats through curtains.. behind scene
Mario Lisovski/Shutterstock

Saying “Macbeth” in a theater

In an unusual twist, it’s the popularity of this Shakespeare tragedy that makes its name bad luck. Legend has it that in England when a new play was a flop, the theater would end the run early and stage a production of Macbeth instead, since the popular show was a guaranteed hit. Therefore, saying “Macbeth” in the theater was equivalent to tempting fate and implying that the production might fail. Even today, thespians dare not utter the name of “the Scottish play” within a theater’s walls. Check out some of the most fascinating New Year’s luck traditions around the world.

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Fried fish on white plate with fork and knife, closeup

Turning over a cooked fish

When eating fish in some regions of China, it’s bad luck to turn over your dinner. Flipping over the fish is said to correspond to the motion of a boat capsizing. To avoid triggering such a disaster, many people in China reach the meat on the underside of the fish with chopsticks instead of rotating it.

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Hands twist the muse on a bottle of sparkling wine. Back on the glass table a plate with watermelon and fruit

Mixing wine and watermelon

Bad news for lovers of watermelon wine: According to Argentinian custom, you’re flirting with disaster by putting these two things together. Not only should you never let these two substances touch one another, you shouldn’t even put them on the same table. This superstition has a few more and less stringent variations, though; some people avoid mixing watermelon with any type of alcohol, while others limit the restriction to just red wine and watermelon. This old wives’ tale warns that the two substances can be lethal together (or at the very least, cause a bad stomachache). Here are 19 lies you were told as a kid that you probably still believe.

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Rainbow over a field of wheat
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Pointing at a rainbow

In some cultures, including the Navajo tradition, pointing at a rainbow would incur the wrath of the gods. People consider rainbows to be celestial beings, or at the very least, sent by them. So you can ooh and aah at a rainbow all you like, but if you point at one, you’re disrespecting the deity responsible for it.

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Mother cutting baby's fingernails with nail clippers.
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Cutting a young baby’s nails

According to an old-fashioned Welsh tradition, parents should never cut their baby’s nails before he or she reaches six months old. The superstition warns that if the baby has its nails cut in its first six months of life, he or she will grow up to have sticky fingers and will become a thief. Next, learn the 9 unlucky things you should never keep in your home.

[Source: Mental Floss]