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Pole-Splitting Superstition

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It’s a common superstition: do not split a pole. That is, if two people are walking down the street, they shouldn’t each walk around a different side of a lamppost, telephone pole, or mailbox. But if they do, there’s a remedy: just say bread and butter! (We also discussed that on a later episode.) There’s an old Merrie Melodies cartoon of panthers doing that. This is part of a complete episode.

Transcript of “Pole-Splitting Superstition”

Martha: Hi, you have A Way with Words.

Adam: Hi, Martha. Hi, Grant. This is Adam Pluminger from Indianapolis, Indiana.

Martha: Hi, Adam.

Grant: Hi, Adam. Welcome to the program.

Adam: Thank you. I’m really excited. Every time I travel, I always listen to the show on podcast, and in the last couple episodes, I’ve heard some questions about family sayings, and I just, I had one, and I wanted to find out a little bit more about my grandmother’s superstitions.

Martha: Whoa, your grandmother’s superstitions. Do tell!

Adam: She had one that I’ve never heard anyone else talk about and actually no one else in my family ever really talks about, but she would always warn me against splitting a pole. And it usually involved if we were walking down a sidewalk or a street and we would happen to walk on either side of a pole or a mailbox or a light post or any sort of barrier. But she also did say that there was a remedy and the remedy was to say “bread and butter” as the two walked around this barrier. So you know, out of habit, I still continue, anytime my wife and I are walking some place and we happen to split a pole, I will say “bread and butter.” And the first time I had said this, my wife said, “What are you talking about?” You know, I don’t know if this is a common phrase or a common superstition or what really its meaning is.

Martha: Yeah, well I think that bread and butter is much more common than the idea of splitting the pole, which I’ve always seen as P-O-L-E, you know, like a pole standing there in front of you.

Grant: Yes, that’s right.

Martha: I’ve also seen “don’t break the pole,” that kind of thing, and the idea is not to separate, you know, you’re with somebody you care about and you don’t want to separate. You want to stay as close together as bread and butter are when bread is buttered.

Grant: Right. And it is a common superstition but it goes by different names or no name at all. It’s just a habit that people have and the “don’t split the pole” is one way of referring to it. Lots of people know the bread and butter, by the way. We did a call about that and got a lot of response and even found, I think, an old Bugs Bunny cartoon where it’s used.

Martha: Yeah, Looney Tunes.

Grant: Looney Tunes.

Martha: Where there are tigers walking back. You can probably find this on YouTube, Adam. It’s two tigers walking in a cage back and forth. I thought they were saying “grandmother, grandmother,” but they were saying “bread and butter, bread and butter.” But you can probably find that on YouTube.

Adam: Well, I guess in my case, that would make sense. “Grandmother,” or “bread and butter.”

Martha: It would make sense. I hadn’t thought about that, yeah.

Grant: But split the pole, don’t split the pole is a pretty common superstition. You’ll find a number of references online. You probably found them. Quite a few refer to African Americans who have this belief. And you’ll also find a small little Facebook page called Don’t Split the Pole.

Martha: Oh, really?

Grant: Of course, there’s a Facebook page for everything.

Adam: Really?

Grant: Yeah, mm-hmm. It’s got about 70 members, and they describe “don’t split the pole” as when you walk into a doorway that has two doors and there’s a divider between them where the doors will latch, and it’s when you go through the two doors, one on each side, rather than both of you going through the same door.

Martha: Oh, really?

Grant: And that’s their version. This person who set up this page called Don’t Split the Pole.

Martha: So maybe it’s the idea of splitting around the pole, I guess, is the idea.

Grant: But you nailed it, Martha. It’s about being separated from this person that you’re with. It’s a physical separation that somehow represents some other kind of psychic or emotional separation.

Martha: And Adam, does your wife say anything back to you when you say that?

Adam: Now she just accepts it. And it’s really, it’s not for superstition or anything like that. And for me, it’s just, I guess, just out of habit. I don’t even know sometimes when I do it.

Martha: Well, you know, if you want her to participate in it, she can say, “Come to supper.” You know, there’s some call and response there in some of the traditions.

Grant: Oh, interesting.

Martha: One person says “bread and butter” and the other person says “cheese and cherries,” or the other person says “come to supper.” “Bread and butter” “Come to supper.” I kind of like that. And good for you for carrying on your grandmother’s tradition.

Adam: Oh, that’s great. Well, I look forward to continuing the tradition then.

Martha: Excellent.

Adam: And I like adding the callback or the response as well.

Martha: Yeah.

Grant: What was it, “cheese and cherries?”

Martha: Well, I like “come to supper.” You can say “bread and butter” and she can say “come to supper.” I like that.

Grant: Okay, very nice.

Martha: Adam, thanks so much for calling.

Adam: Thank you so much.

Grant: Bye-bye.

Martha: Bye-bye.

Adam: Take care.

Martha: 877-929-9673 or send an email to words@waywordradio.org.

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