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Language Lounge: “Kivi kotti!”

Global theatre traditions have taught us that explicitly wishing someone well before a performance is a sure-fire way to make that performance go terribly wrong. Instead, a suitable replacement is “break a leg.”

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The Canadian arts publication Ludwig Van states that this saying first appeared in Robert Wilson Lynd's article “A Defence of Superstition” in 1921. Lynd wrote of how wishing someone luck in horse racing might actually bring about the opposite result. Then there's the story of how British actor David Garrick continued to perform Shakespeare's Richard III despite having fractured his leg, presumably setting the standard for a wholehearted, praiseworthy performance.

Boston Lyric Opera speaks of an equivalent phrase—“Toi, toi, toi”—said by opera singers as “an [onomatopoeic] imitation of the sound of spitting, done to ward [off] a hex or evil spirits.” Spitting against a lit candle could also blow smoke in the direction of those said spirits.

In Italian, luck can be imparted by saying “in bocca al lupo” (“in the mouth of the wolf”), and in Hungarian,“kéz- és lábtörést” (“hand and foot fractures”).

When many cultures are breaking bones and fighting off demons, what is the Estonian solution? Stones!

The saying “kivi kotti” (“a stone into [your] bag”) is Estonia's contribution to a slew of euphemisms and other word trickery used to bring people luck...

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