Advent Calendar 12 – Lucky Saliva

Written By: Emanuel Updated: December 9, 2023

 

“Lucky Saliva”

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Hello everyone,

Day 12 of the epic German learning Advent Calendar, and after we did an exercise yesterday, today it’s time for another a really cool colloquial vocabulary treat, that’s absolutely worth adding to your active vocabulary

Toi, Toi, Toi

The French speakers among you now might be all excited like:
“Moi, moi, moi? Quoi, quoi, quoi?”
but the German “word” toi has nothing to do with French and it’s not pronounced the French way.

So what is it?
Well, most likely, it is an onomonop… uhm… an onamot… it’s a a verbal imitation of a sound and the sound it’s supposed to imitate is … drumroll… the sound of spitting over someone’s shoulder three times.
I mean… the soft spitting, like when you spit a gum or a small hair that’s on your lips.

And now the big question is, why on earth you’d need a verbalized version of the sound of spitting over someone’s shoulder three times.
And the answer is of course: superstitions!!

In many cultures, there used to be a believe that spitting is a way to keep away evil spirits and in Germany, the specific believe was that you spit over someone’s shoulder three times to keep the devil from creeping up. If you’re now like “Eww, gross.” then you’ll LOVE some other variants of this. Like, softly spitting into someone’s face that you admire. I’ll link a Wikipedia entry below, if you want to learn more :)

But yeah, in Germany, you’d spit over someone’s shoulder to ward of evil spirits, and while the act itself has disappeared because of “mAnNeRs”, the verbal imitation is an extremely common way to wish someone “Good luck” .

  • “Morgen ist mein Deutschtest”
    “Oh, na dann toi toi toi.
    “Danke!!”
  • “Tomorrow, there’s going to be my German test.”
    “Oh, well then, here’s me verbally spitting over your shoulder.”
    “Danke!!”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Now, what’s important is that toi, toi, toi is used in contexts where there are some stakes. They don’t have to be big, but there needs to be a “negative effect” for you if things don’t go well.
So for example in the mall, when the electronics store has a wheel of fortune and you can win a gift card, saying toi toi toi wouldn’t really fit, because there’s no stakes.
But for example, when I was playing theater, we’d always say toi toi toi to each other before a show. Actually, we’d even say it over each other’s shoulder and it devolved into a tse tse tse and I was like “Oh man, that sounds more like spitting than toi toi toi.”…  I did NOT know the origin of the phrase then :).

But yeah, toi toi toi is the PERFECT thing to say to your friends before some event where they have moderate stakes.
Now, many among you are probably now like “So it’s like the German version of Break a leg, right?”
And it is true that the two share the same overall idea, but at least to me, the two don’t feel the same. toi toi toi feels smaller, more casual, and it is WAY more common, so I think “Good luck!” really is the better translation. The closer German counterpart for “Break a leg.” is “Hals und Beinbruch.” But that’s so extreme, I actually feel weird when I say it.
Anyway, that’s it for today.
Let me know if you have heard toi toi toi before and if you also have spitting superstitions in your country. And of course if you have questions, let me know as well.
Have a great day and bis morgen :)

 

further reading: 

 

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