Saturday, 1 May 2010

Playground superstitions

White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits!

Apparently you have to say it three times before midday on the first day of a new month, and it means good luck! Either that or I was just really gullible as a child…

There was also the charming ‘A pinch and a punch for the first day of the month, no return’.

By saying ‘no return’ it meant (in playground code) that you couldn’t retaliate back... unless you replied ‘A punch and a kick for being so quick!’

The power of ‘no return’ was like the power of Grayskull… oops, slight digression into He-Man. Of course what I meant to say was like the power of Fainites.

Anyone remember calling out fainites to announce a truce, accompanied by crossing fingers? We pronounced it ‘fay-nights’, and it was usually shouted just before an exhausted small person was about to be tagged ‘it’. Shouting fainites meant an instant shut down of the game, and so It and Soon-to-be-It would stand eyeing each other, panting, until Soon-to-be-It declared they were fit to run again, in which case they were swiped by It before they managed three paces.

Fainites is a curious word to be handed down the years – according to the Collins English Dictionary it dates from around the 1870s or earlier, and is from the Old French ‘se feindre’, in the sense of meaning ‘to back out of battle’. Okay… but what was it doing in my 1980s school playground? I don’t remember anyone teaching us to shout fainites; it was just a word that was waiting for us on the shimmering tarmac.

Wouldn’t it be great if fainites worked beyond the playground? As well as for the really big things (wars, etc), it could be put to good use during meetings.

Work: Jayne, what do you think of Boring Involved Topic?
Me (holds hand in air, crosses fingers): Fainites!
Work (respectfully): Oh, of course. Next person?

Or with tidying up:

Significant Other: Jayne, is it your turn to clean the cat litter tray?
Me: Oh it is but fainites. (Displays crossed fingers)
S.O. (impressed by my knowledge of Old French): Ah. Righty ho then.

Sadly I don’t employ fainites quite as much as I should, but I do still salute solitary magpies, all thanks to the rhyme:

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
And seven for a secret that has never been told

I actually use this rhyme in the novel-to-be, but the superstition goes if you see a solitary magpie you have to salute it to ward off sorrow, while saying the words ‘Hello Mister Magpie’. You can hold your salute (if you want to look like a nutter) and look around for a second magpie, as then you have turned ‘sorrow’ into ‘joy’ (or perhaps into ‘embarrassment’.) My salute these days may be more of an ashamed rub of my forehead, but I still do it!

Are there any childhood superstitions that you still follow? And I wish you the good luck of three white rabbits!

Image taken from the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland


Old Kitty said...

White rabbit, white rabbit, white rabbit!

Phew!! There!! I've said three times AND before midday!


What a lovely word Fainites!! I love it and will be saying it out loud to anyone who asks me anything silly. Hah!

Gosh when I was at school it was "Pinch punch first of the month" and I was usually the small person rubbing said shoulders after being to slow to say and do it first!

I always get the magpie saying wrong. Keep getting the numbers and corresponding consequence mixed up.

Which would explain a lot of things really...!!


Take care

Old Kitty said...

p.s It's "white rabbitS, white rabbitS, white rabbitS"!!

Phew!!! I nearly jinxed it there!


sorry, I am going away now...!


Wendy Ramer said...

I'm going to live on the edge and NOT say the white rabbits incantation. As you can see, I'm not superstitious.

I really enjoyed this post even though I didn't know any of the references, apart from Alice in Wonderland. And I'm definitely a new fan of fainites, especially when my husband asks whose turn it is to fold the laundry.

Christine said...

What a fascinating post! I have never come across 'fainites'.

I forgot about the white rabbits this morning, but I did consider going out to wash my face in the morning dew.

Piedmont Writer said...

White Rabbits White Rabbits White Rabbits


I've never heard of fainites but I really like that word. I'll have to try it sometime with Monster Baby when she wants to play one more round of 'Ladybug'.

Joanne said...

I think you've started something here with your Fainites story. It's a trend that'll be spreading through blogland now :)

Linda G. said...

White rabbit, white rabbit, white rabbit!

And it's not nearly midday on this side of the pond.

*sits back and waits for good luck*

Laura Marcella said...

This isn't a superstition, but I still (lightly) punch someone's arm whenever I see a VW Beetlebug and say "Orange (or whatever color) punch buggy, no punch backs!" Haha! Too bad there aren't many Bugs on the road anymore.

Happy May!!!

MissKris said...

Hi...finding my way over here from Ciara's blog. Your Profile intrigued me! :) This reminds me of an episode of "Wheel of Fortune" here in the US I saw years ago when Vanna White was asked to say "Unique New York" 3 times in a row as fast as she could. Let's just say she got it right, but if it was fast, heaven help us, lol! Talk about the empty-headed Blonde Syndrome! As to childhood superstitions, I do have one. Whenever I was walking with my mother, which was quite often, and we'd come to a pole or fire hydrant and had to split to walk around it she'd say "Bread and Butter!" I dunno why, and never asked. But I do the same even now with my little I did with my own children. I will be back to visit again...enjoyed my time browsing down your page! I, too, LOVE the sea!!!

Jayne said...

Hello Old Kitty! Fainites is a lovely word, isn't it? It took me ages to find how it was actually spelt - I was typing in 'vey knights' and all sorts of variations! Getting the magpie saying wrong - heehee, oh dear - yes that does explain a lot! Have a lovely weekend. And you saved yourself from the jinx!!

Jayne said...

Hello Wendy! Glad you enjoyed the post despite not knowing most of the references - sometimes that makes it more fun though, doesn't it? And yeay for converting you to fainites! I just wish it had the same power now as in the playground!

Jayne said...

Hello Christine. So no fainites for you, either? I wonder how on earth me and my friends knew about it at juinor school! We all employed it with gusto though. Washing face in morning dew... not heard of that one before. Sounds a lot more pleasant than a puddle!

Jayne said...

Hello Anne. Another fainites convert! Great word isn't it? And the white rabbits send their good luck your way! :)

Jayne said...

Hi Joanne. Hee! I can't believe so far that I am the only person to know about fainites. Maybe my school was a bit odd! But is the perfect get-out clause. I am going to try it on the washing up - evoke that old playground magic!

Jayne said...

Hi Linda! Thank you for coming over. I am sure good luck is on the way!

Jayne said...

Hi Laura. Ah! I haven't heard of this, but we used to do something very similar, and lightly punch people if we saw a Telecom van. I have no idea why - at least there seems to be a rhyme and reason to the VW Beetlebug! Happy May to you as well. :)

Jayne said...

Hello MissKris! I am so glad the profile was intriguing enough to make you wander over. Wow, that is a good childhood superstition! The best ones are a bit barmy, I think. I wonder why 'bread and butter' - love the fact you have carried on regardless! I will do the same with magpies. :)

And thank you! It is my dream to one day make it to living by the sea. One day!

Kittie Howard said...

I dropped in from Shannon's blog and am glad I did. I love how you write and totally enjoyed this post. Thanks!

Plain Jane said...

Step on a crack, break your mothers back. I had never heard of yours, but they were sure interesting. I still don't step on sidewalk cracks.

Ann Best said...

"Step on a crack, you break your mother's back." This is my superstition memory too from childhood (Plain Jane).

Thank you, Jayne, for helping me think about superstitions for my memoir in progress.

Oh, another one. "Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home." I really thought that it would.

Fran said...

I did the 'step on the cracks' thing, too. I'm not superstitious now but I often just do it for fun. I really ought to stop, at 48.

Aubrie said...

Very cute! We used to spray pretend-germ-killer on anything that boys touched.

Amy said...

I thought you had to say white rabbits once before you spoke to anyone else on the 1st of each month. It is often my first thought on the first of the month (not sure why) so I say it just in case.

Talli Roland said...

Oh, I would so love it if these things worked in real life. I've never heard the white rabbit thing, but I'd gladly employ it.

And I agree with OldKitty - Fainites is indeed a lovely word!

Janet O'Kane said...

Superstitions I learnt on my mother's knee and have been unable to shake off include:
- Not putting shoes on a table (even in a bag)for fear of the bad luck this will inevitably bring
- When I sneeze, remembering 'one a kiss, two a wish, three a silver spoon'(and making a wish if I stop at two)
- Throwing salt over my shoulder if I accidentally spill some
Complete madness - it's lucky I've no offspring to pass this all down to.

Jayne said...

Hello Kittie! I am so glad you liked it – thank you so much for letting me know. :)


Hi Plain Jane. It’s interesting how most of these childhood rhymes and superstitions are actually quite mean or violent! I remember something about not walking on cracks in case bears get you – think this was from a poem by A.A Milne. Poor mothers and their backs!


Hi Ann. I am glad it may have helped trigger something for your memoir. We call ladybugs ‘ladybirds’ and our rhyme was ‘ladybird, ladybird, fly away home. Your house is on fire and your children have flown’. Nice, eh? Poor ladybirds!


Hi Fran. I am 34, and I still salute magpies. I think there is no hope for us.


Hi Aubrie. Love it! :)


Hi Amy. Ah yes, that rings a bell – it should be the first thing you say. Somewhere down the line I have diluted it to midday, which explains A LOT.


Hi Talli. You mean to say they don’t work?! But... but... (wibbles)


Hi Janet. Oh yes – shoes on the table! I still get leary about that. Love the sneeze rhyme – never heard of that before, wonder what the silver spoon implies? Sounds a bit random – like ‘one a kiss, two a wish, three a spatula’!

Rose said...

I touch wood- and always three times- even though it's silly!

Jayne said...

Rose - I also touch wood - but feel that for it to really work it has to be living wood such as trees. Didn't realise it had to be three times!

What with all the magpie saluting, wood tapping, pavement crack avoiding, salt throwing... we are all a bit of a strange bunch!