Definition of superstition noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary



BrE BrE//ˌsuːpəˈstɪʃn//
, BrE//ˌsjuːpəˈstɪʃn//
; NAmE NAmE//ˌsuːpərˈstɪʃn//
[uncountable, countable] (often disapproving)
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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 According to superstition, breaking a mirror brings bad luck. Most cultures have their superstitions. Wordfinderamulet, charm, coincidence, fate, fortune, jinx, luck, mascot, superstition, talisman Word OriginMiddle English: from Old French, or from Latin superstitio(n-), from super- ‘over’ + stare ‘to stand’ (perhaps from the notion of “standing over” something in awe). CulturesuperstitionsSuperstitions are beliefs that certain things or events will bring good or bad luck. Many people believe that luck plays an important part in their lives, and they wish somebody luck (= say 'good luck')in many situations such as before an exam or an interview for a job. People learn superstitions while they are children, and though few adults will admit to being superstitious, many act on superstitions out of habit. Most superstitions are centuries old, and British and American people have many in common.People are also interested in fate (= a power that controls everything) and in knowing what will happen to them in the future. Most people know which sign of the zodiac they were born under, and read their horoscope or stars in magazines, though only a few take it seriously.There are many well-known omens (= signs) of bad luck, some of which have a religious origin. The number 13 is considered unlucky because there were 13 people (Jesus and the twelve Apostles) at the Last Supper. Tall buildings often do not have a 13th floor; instead the numbers go from 12 to 14. Some people believe they will have a bad day when the 13th day of the month falls on a Friday (Friday the 13th) and don't like to travel then. In Britain the magpie is widely considered an unlucky bird and has been associated with the Devil. The number of magpies seen is important: ‘One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy.’A well-known cause of bad luck is to walk under a ladder leaning against a wall. Treading on cracks between paving slabs is also bad luck, and it is unwise to cross on the stairs (= pass somebody going in the opposite direction). A person who breaks a mirror will have seven years' bad luck. It is unlucky to spill salt, but bad luck can be avoided by throwing a little of it over the left shoulder with the right hand. People should not open an umbrella indoors as this will annoy the sun. Some people think it is bad luck to let a black cat cross in front of them; others think black cats bring good luck, and they give paper black cats as tokens at weddings.Some people carry a lucky charm, such as a rabbit's foot or a special coin. Finding a four-leaf clover (= a clover plant with four leaves instead of the usual three) is also lucky. People sometimes place an old horseshoe over the front door of their house. It must be hung with both ends pointing upwards; if it is hung upside down the luck will run out through the gap. Sports teams and military regiments often have a lucky mascot, usually an animal or a model of an animal, which travels with them.Rituals are actions that people believe are necessary in order to have good luck. When people talk about something that they hope will come true (= happen), they may touch something made of wood and say ‘ touch wood ’ (AmEknock on wood ’). If something goes badly for somebody on two occasions, people may say ‘ third time lucky ’ (AmEthird time's charm ’). If people fear that they have tempted fate (= assumed too confidently that everything will go well), they may cross their fingers to protect their good luck. Actors believe that wishing somebody good luck will bring them the opposite, and often say ‘ break a leg ’ instead. They also think it is unlucky to call Shakespeare's play Macbeth by its name and prefer to call it 'the Scottish play' instead.There are many other ways, apart from reading a horoscope, of finding out what will happen in the future. Fortune-tellers at fairs use a crystal ball or read a palm (= look at the lines on a person's hand) to foretell the future. Other people use tarot cards (= special cards with pictures on) or read tea leaves (= look at the size and arrangement of tea leaves left after a cup of tea). Some people take all this seriously but many treat it as fun.There are superstitions that apply to the weather. A well-known rhyme is 'Red sky at night, shepherd's delight; red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning'. In the US sailor's replaces shepherd's. (A red sky in the evening means good weather ahead, while a red sky in the morning means storms are coming). British people believe that if it rains on 15 July (St Swithin's Day) it will rain every day for the next 40 days. On Groundhog Day, 2 February, Americans look for a groundhog coming out of its hole. If it sees its shadow (i.e. if it is sunny) then winter will last a lot longer, but if it sees no shadow, winter is almost over.It is common for people to say ‘ bless you ’ or ‘ gesundheit ’ (German for ‘good health’) when somebody sneezes. This was originally said in order to prevent a person's soul being sneezed out of their body.Extra examples Red-headed people have many superstitions attached to them. The topic of birth is riddled with superstition. These ideas are based on myths and superstitions. We have a lot of superstitions about animals. primitive superstitions about death
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: superstition