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Breaking Murphy's Leg



“Break a leg” is a well-known saying in theatre which means “good luck”. It is typically said to actors before they go out onto stage to perform. The expression reflects a theatrical superstition in which wishing a person “good luck” is considered bad luck. The expression is sometimes used outside the theatre as superstitions and customs travel through other professions and then into common use.

At a previous job, we had a roll of toilet paper, affectionately known as “Buttwipe,” that was thrown into the box with the rest of the  art department’s supplies and shipped to every meeting we worked. The consequences of not performing this act of raw superstition, though unspecified, were too too horrible to consider.

Over the years, Buttwipe (now there’s a word I never thought I would find myself typing) suffered from severe travel fatigue and required a series of shipping tape grafts in order to continue keeping it all together while performing his crucial on-site duties. As that particular art department is no longer in existence, Buttwipe is now quietly retired and living in a  closet, preferring to stay close at home after a being on the road for much of his long, globe-trotting  career.

Although they are basically irrational, superstitions can actually serve useful purposes. They can foster a sense of normalcy in chaotic, uncertain situations and can provide the illusion that there is some small modicum of control in an otherwise uncontrollable environment. They can also build team cohesion and esprit de corps. I have in mind something like Gene Kranz’s white vest in Apollo 13.

FIDO Gold: Looks like Mrs. Kranz pulled out the ol’ needle and thread again…
Technician: Last one looked like he bought it off a gypsy.
FIDO Gold: Well I guess you can’t argue with tradition.
Technician: [Gene puts on a flight vest with an Apollo 13 patch on it, everyone begins applauding] Hey Gene, I guess we can go now!
Gene Kranz: Save it for splashdown fellas…

What superstitions do you or your colleagues invoke in order to ensure disaster doesn’t strike your meeting or presentation? Does it involve wearing a specific article of clothing? Do you need to have a particular type of coffee or eat a certain breakfast the morning of the meeting? Is it something a little more bizarre? Please share it with us in a comment.

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