December 16, 2003

Pickle jinx

When I was a kid, there was a playground rule (mostly obeyed by girls) that if two people said the same thing at the same time, both speakers were supposed to

Link pinkies, touch blue,
And don't speak 'til you're spoken to.

My seven-year-old son and his friends have more asymmetrical and complex rules for this situation, involving a silence jinx imposed on the participant who is slower to react with a prescribed incantation.

There are two ways to impose the jinx, according to what I was told as we were walking to school this morning. One of the two people involved can say "jinx personal jinx," which imposes a silence jinx on the other, slower participant. In that case, the jinxee can't speak for the rest of the day until spoken to, except that (s)he can say "ebbs" and dissolve the jinx (though apparently some kids don't know that). However, you can also say "jinx pickle jinx". If you do that, the jinx is much stronger. The jinx lasts for a month, and the jinxee can't escape until someone the jinxer says his name (I'm not sure whether girls have the same rules here, so I'll stick with masculine pronouns). The jinxee can also say "ebbs" to dissolve the jinx, but this only works once a month with a pickle jinx. If the jinxee speaks before the jinx is dissolved, in principle everyone else is entitled to punch him, though I gather that social censure is usually enough, especially if teachers are watching. There is quite a bit more to it, apparently, including a legend of some middle schoolers who are said to know other jinx-dissolving methods.

This seems to be a local and perhaps recent invention, since "pickle jinx" is one of those few pairs of words that are not found in Google's index. However, here is a discussion of some (British) jinx rules that are similar in spirit though less complex.

I should also mention that I myself am now in the state of having used "ebbs" to dissolve a "pickle jinx", which means that if I get jinxed again within a month, I may be uncharacteristically silent for a while.

[Update: Here is some further jinx lore.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 16, 2003 11:09 AM