Crossing fingers: Wishing luck and telling lies : LUSENET : Stats Forum for Keller-plan Course : One Thread

I received many responses to my e-mail updates about the course of Louise's stay in hospital for heart surgery. Among the responses was a flood of comments about wishing luck and telling lies in various cultures! Here I have copied, without significant editing, this cross-cultural study generated by e-mail.

Day 3: Saturday, Feb. 21

Some of my relatives in Germany are receiving these updates. One said she was keeping her fingers crossed for Louise. Actually, in German one doesn't use that expression to wish someone luck--one says instead "Wir drücken die Daumen" which, literally, means "We're pressing our thumbs"! In fact in Germany crossed fingers mean that you are lying, quite different from the meaning here!

Day 4: Sunday, Feb. 22

Several of you commented on or made jokes about the "crossing fingers" or "pressing thumbs". The most extensive was by Angie, a former student of mine, who herself is no stranger to serious surgery. Angie had brain surgery last fall which has relieved her of epileptic seizures. Angie and Louise have developed a very close relationship. Here's her comment:

"When you mentioned how in Germany it means that you are lying when you cross your fingers and here it means that you are deeply hoping for the best it brought back a childhood memory! When I was a child I remember that we (children) always made sure to check that the person telling us a story (always another child) didn't have their hands behind their backs because they could be hiding the fact that they were crossing their fingers and telling a lie! I forgot all about that, we did it so often. Now it means such a different thing, when I was in recovery so many people told me that they were crossing their fingers for me too, and I didn't think of a lie, I thought of hope!"

Naturally, Louise loved this story.

Day 5: Monday, Feb. 23

There were further interesting comments today on the crossing of fingers:

From Rita in Canada:

"I really could relate to Angie's story. I so remember that, as a child, crossing one's fingers behind one's back gave one carte blanche to tell a falsehood. It wasn't a 'lie' if your fingers were crossed when you said it. You could promise just about anything, but if your fingers were crossed when you made the promise, you couldn't be held to it.

I have no idea why that didn't seem incongruous to us when we also crossed our fingers in hope and 'prayer'. It was always when we really wanted something with all out hearts that we kept our 'fingers crossed' for it."

From Martin in Germany:

"Of course the crossing fingers story is interesting. I think this comes from the opposite of swearing when you raise your hand (in North America and sometimes now here) or actually 2 fingers and when you cross your fingers (behind your back) that means you are lying. Hence, children raise two fingers saying 'I swear' and at the same time have the two fingers from the other hand crossed behind their back.... So, what I understand from Angie is that this (the meaning) has changed since she was a child...???"

Day 6: Tuesday, Feb. 24

I didn't expect that I would hear from so many people about variations on finger crossing, thumb pressing, and, now, thumb holding.

Here are some of the recent responses.

From Elizabete, originally in Latvia, now in Canada:

"I could not resist, but put in my two cents about the meaning of crossed fingers in Latvian culture (I'm not sure if it exists here the same way amongst Latvians or not?):

When I was a kid, living in Latvia, crossed fingers meant that someone was allowed to tell a fib (you were not allowed to tell lies, especially malicious lies!), but it was mostly used in telling gossip or fibs about love interests, that one wished for or hoped would come true. And yes, the crossed fingers did get hidden behind ones back, so that the listener would not suspect anything.

For luck you would hold your thumbs in your palm, pressing down with all four fingers. Holding your right thumb was especially good! I remember going to school for a test and my mom would send me off by saying: I'll hold my right thumb for you all day!"

Louise was visited today by the Latvian pastor Ilze, who demonstrated for us this holding of the thumb by the other four fingers. And Louise's Latvian friend, Vija, from Australia just wrote me that "We [Latvians], too, having been in the ambit of German culture for 800 years, belong to the thumb pressing brigade, with the variation that we hold, not press, the thumb."!!!

How's that for a cross-cultural study?


-- Anonymous, March 04, 2004

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