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The most commonly known and practised belief about knives is that giving any sharp instrument as a present will ‘cut the friendship’ unless a small coin is given in return. Opie and Tatem record examples of the fear that the knife severs love from 1507 onwards, although the earliest reference to mention the payment to avoid it appears in Grose's Provincial Glossary (1787) (but see also scissors). Correspondence in N&Q in 1912 (11s:5 (1912), 91, 157) shows that even sharp objects such as brooch pins could be susceptible to this belief, and that lasses had been known to give an unwanted beau a knife, and refuse to accept anything in return, to get rid of him. Common at least up to the 19th century was the belief that when a knife has caused a wound, the knife is treated with the same ointment as the wound, to ensure effective healing (N&Q 9s:10 (1902), 509). This cure was apparently taken seriously by many in the 17th century, with Sir Kenelm Digby advertising his special ‘weapon salve’ which included as an ingredient moss from the skull of an unburied man (Picard, 1997: 78, 288), but declared magical and thus unlawful by William Foster in 1631 (Hazlitt, 1905: 621). Alternatively, the weapon should simply be kept clean and brightly polished, as any speck of rust would betoken death for the wounded person (Folk-Lore Record 1 (1878), 43–4). Others advise against stirring anything with a knife: stir with a knife, stir up strife. A knife and fork or two knives laid across each other on the plate is unlucky or will cause a quarrel in the house (see also spoon), which was still reported in our Superstitions Survey 1998/9. Some try to avoid allowing a knife to spin while on the table, while others deliberately do so in love divination.

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