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As with other parts of the body, an itching elbow is significant. It is mentioned by Scot (1584: book 11, chapter 13) as one of ‘an innumerable multitude of objects, whereupon they prognosticate good or bad lucke’. Unfortunately, he does not tell us what this particular one means. Neither is Shakespeare very clear: ‘rub the elbow at the news of hurly burly innovation’ (Henry the Fourth Part 1 (c.1597), v. i). It is only with 17th-century authors that we understand that an itching elbow means that you will, or should, change your bedfellow. Much more recent is the idea, reported in Opie and Tatem, that if you bang your elbow accidentally, you should also knock the other one, for luck.Opie and Tatem, 1989: 136–7; Lean II, 1903: 285–6.

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