- A sudden lull in the conversation is not random, some believe, but usually occurs at twenty minutes past or to the hour, and is occasioned by angels passing by. Opie and Tatem give several references to this idea, starting with one from Wales in 1909. They also show that the Romans had a belief about sudden silences, quoting Pliny's Natural History (ad 77). Some families or communities had little rituals to cover sudden silences, such as one reported from Durham: If silence suddenly fell, someone would break it by saying 'silence in the pork shop', which had an implied response - 'and let the old sow speak' (FLS News 12 (1991), 7). It is also thought to be significant if two people say the same thing at the same time, or if one just anticipates the other. In the latter case the one who spoke will marry before the other (current since at least 1738), whereas simultaneous speakers should link little fingers and make a wish. A complex ceremony is reported from a 13-year-old girl from Bath, in 1935:When two people say the same thing at the same moment without saying anything further, they hook right-hand little fingers, say the name of a poet (not Shakespeare or Burns (which spears or burns your wish) silently make a wish, and then one says, 'I wish, I wish your wish come true', and the other replies, 'I wish, I wish the same to you'. But if you both said the same poet that invalidated the whole thing. (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 368)Several other isolated beliefs about talking have been recorded. According to Leather (1912: 86) if you accidentally speak in rhyme you can expect a present before the end of the month. Igglesden (c.1932: 229) reports that it was unlucky to talk when passing under a railway bridge. To get your words in the wrong order means a stranger on the way (Lean, 1903: ii. 318). In modern times it is common to say that talking to yourself is 'the first sign of madness', but according to N&Q it means you will die a violent death (quoted Lean, 1903: ii. 305).■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 95, 367-8; Lean, 1903: ii. 305, 318-20.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.