Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Vocabulary corner - Old wives tales and superstitions

The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary has the following definitions:
  • old wives' tale - an old idea or belief that has been proved not to be scientific
  • supersition - the belief that particular events happen in a way that cannot be explained by reason or science; the belief that particular events bring good or bad luck
Here is a little information about one piece of folklore, and a couple of exercises on some old wives' tales and superstitions that exist in Britain.

St Swithin's Day

In the US they have Groundhog Day, in the UK we have St Swithin's Day (15th July).
  • 'St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain
  • For forty days it will remain
  • St. Swithin's day if thou be fair
  • For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.'
Explanation - thou is the old form of the 2nd person singular pronoun, dost is the old 2nd person singular form of the verb do. In the last line 'twill is a poetic form of it will and nae mair is dialect for no more.
In Buckinghamshire they apparently have a rather simpler and more up-to-date version (Wikipedia).
  • If on St Swithin's day it really pours
  • You're better off to stay indoors.

The magpie (L) and the swallow (R)

Images from Wikipedia

Exercise 1 - These should be quite easy, in several cases the lines rhyme. Solve the anagrams and type in the words.

1.Red sky at (t g h i n), shepherds delight.
Red sky in the (g o n m r n i), shepherd's warning.
2.An (p p e a l) a day keeps the doctor away.
3.Feed a (c l d o), starve a fever.
4.Lucky at cards, unlucky in (o e v l).
5.April showers bring May (o e l f r s w).
6.A bride should wear something old, something new,
something (d e o o w b r r), something (e u b l).
7.On seeing a magpie
- One for sorrow, two for (yjo), three for a girl, four for a boy ...
8.On walking on the pavement
- Step on a (a k c r c), break your mother's back
9.It's unlucky to walk under (r a e d s l d).
10.Breaking a (o r r i r m) means seven years bad luck.
11.Keep your (n g e f s r i) crossed when you want good luck.
12.Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, (thewaly) and (swie).

Exercise 2 - A little harder perhaps. Try doing it by process of elimination.

leg   ·   glass   ·   wood   ·   snoring   ·   month   ·   rain   ·   umbrella   ·   stairs   ·   play   ·   spider   ·   pinch   ·   summer
1.The first time you see the New Moon should not be through .
2.Actors never call Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' by name, but call it 'The Scottish '.
3.If you spill any salt, throw a of it over your left shoulder.
4.It's unlucky to keep your up indoors.
5.One swallow doesn't make a .
6.When swallows fly low, it means there's going to be .
7.For good luck you should touch .
8.Killing a will make it rain the next day.
9.Sleeping on your back encourages .
10.Only eat seafood if there's an 'r' in the .
11.In the theatre 'Break a !' is said to wish someone 'Good Luck'
12.Some people think it's unlucky to cross somebody else on the .



  • Ex 1 - 1. night,2. morning, 3. apple, 4. cold, 5. love, 6. flowers, 7. borrowed, 8. blue, 9. joy, 10. crack, 11. ladders, 12. mirror, 13. fingers, 14. wealthy, 15. wise
  • Ex 1 - 2. glass, 2. play, 3. pinch, 4. umbrella, 5. summer, 6. rain, 7. wood, 8. spider, 9. snoring, 10. month, 11. leg, 12. stairs

Printer friendly post

You can make a teacher copy with answers by clicking on 'Show All'. Make sure you 'Clear All' before printing student copies. Or you can print normally and the answers will appear on a separate page (Page 3). The exercises are on Pages 2. I strongly recommend doing a Print Preview first. You might want to change your margins and you certainly won't want to print every page.

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