counting


counting
   It has long been considered unlucky to count things too accurately - it is tempting fate to announce (even to yourself) the exact number in case it makes you lose some. 'Don't count your chickens before they are hatched' is an oft-quoted maxim even today. The references given in Opie and Tatem show that the fear of counting stretches back at least to biblical and classical times, but British examples only appear from the 18th century, and the majority of illustrations given by them are from Scotland. Nevertheless, English *card-players are particularly advised against counting their winnings at the card-table, and on a similar principle: 'A Suffolk shepherd . . . will seldom willingly tell even his master the number of lambs born until the lambing-season is over for fear of bad luck' (Folk-Lore 54 (1943), 390). The only thing one should definitely count is *warts, as from the mid-19th century to the present day this has been a standard way of getting rid of them.
   ■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 101-2.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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