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Italian Superstition Part I – Toccare le palle


I really started thinking about Italian superstition when I was at an Italian wedding with my parents and now wife.  My mother leaned over, and whispered into my ear

 “Toccare le palle”


“touch your nuts”

I did.  I giggled.  My wife asked me “what was so funny,” so I told her

“my mom asked me to touch my man parts.”

She asked


I told her

Italians believe that if a “witch” is giving you the “evil eye,” you have to touch yourself, to ward off the powers of said “evil eye.”

When I said this in English, it sounded silly, So I had to do a little research.

The evil eye or “malocchio”  noted in Dundes (1992) who references Italian folklore scholar Giuseppe Pitre explains that

In Italian scholarship there has always been an avid interest in the “jettatura” (curse of the evil eye, whereby all that the cursed looks upon will suffer bad luck), which is cast via a spell either because they envy the wellbeing of others or because they desire that evil befall them.”

In the presence of the evil eye curse, or the fear that it might appear, there are many words trinkets, and gestures to avert or exorcise the evil eye curse. The most common is the extension of the index and little fingers on one or both hands while bending the others inward, to resemble horns.  Another is when you see an individual spit when a “lady of easy virtue” stares at him (Dundes, 1992).  The crotch grab is intended to block the evil eye curse to a man’s genitals, thus protecting their most valued asset – the future fruit of a man’s loins (Lapidos, 2008).

Some common trinkets (either in plastic or a precious metal) Italians wear or carry to protect from the bad luck generated from the maloccio are; un “corno,” which is shaped like a horn, a small hand making the horns gesture, or a “humpback” a little man with a horn as his lower half, in a tuxedo and a top hat, holding a horseshoe making a horns gesture.


If you have any more Italian superstitions, feedback, corrections, arguments or whatever, please post below.  I plan on posting more about different Italian wives’ tales along with any other random ideas about culture, society, and technology on my blog

Chuck Piscitello Ed.D

Dundes, A. (1992). The evil eye: a casebook. Madison : University of Wisconsin Press.

Lapidos, J. (2008). Retrieved from Can’t Touch This – Why Italians grab their crotches to ward off bad luck.:



Instructional Designer, teacher and sociologist.

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