Commendatory cursing

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at UMR.EDU
Sun Jul 8 21:32:16 UTC 2007

     If this is (or was) really true among the Irish, the logic must be the same as with the German good-luck wish "Hals- und Beinbruch" = "May you break your neck and leg," with its evident borrowing into the English theater good-luck wish "Break a leg." The German expression derives from the medieval superstition that devils exist and take particular pleasure in zapping people who are happy/optimistic/etc.  A good luck wish might therefore put the recipient at some risk if a devil happened to be in the vicinity.
     But fortunately (so the belief went) devils are also incredibly stupid and can be outwitted. Hence a wish for bad luck could fool the devil into thinking that the recipient already had enough trouble, and the devil would fly by in search of someone a bit happier/more optimistic/etc.  Meanwhile,  the recipient would know that the wish expressed exactly the opposite of its literal meaning.
    Or is there something else at work with the Irish commendatory cursing?
Gerald Cohen


From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Sat 7/7/2007 4:50 PM
Subject: Re: Commendatory cursing

"An example or two would aid your presentation greatly." - Pedagogical comment.

  1821 "A Real Paddy" [?Pierce Egan] _Real Life in Ireland_ (rpt. London: Methuen, 1904) 32:
  It is the way of an Irishman, he always conveys his blessing in the form of a curse, and the harder it is the more he loves you.


The American Dialect Society -

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