Speak of the Devil

He’s hit 13 of the last 13 fairways.
He’s had no bogeys in 87 holes.
She hasn’t two-putted today.

What’s next? A missed fairway, a two-putt, a bogey. Naturally.

In each case, the subject of the on-air commentary is oblivious to it. But in each case, the golfer then fails to continue the streak (if it’s positive) or does the very thing being ruled out (if it’s negative). Ah, the announcer’s curse.

announcer’s curse:
A state or condition in which an athlete fails to perform a skill
that an announcer just praised him or her for.
Also known as “announcer’s jinx.”
Urban Dictionary

Of course it’s not really a curse: it’s coincidence. I mean, if I hear someone commenting on my performance it might throw me off, but people saying things doesn’t perversely, magically, make the opposite thing happen. Does it?

No, of course it’s not really a curse and so there’s no reason for me to cringe when I hear an announcer say this sort of thing about a golfer I’m pulling for. No, it’s just coincidence compounded by selective perception. All the counting is on the one side: We don’t notice when a golfer hits a fairway or makes a putt after the announcer has just pointed out their success at doing exactly that.

No, of course it’s not really a curse.

But what could it hurt if we tried to harness this force-of-the-universe-that-has-a-name-but-that-certainly-isn’t-a-curse? Could we effect a reversal of fortunes? Sort of a reverse curse (if there were curses) (which there aren’t) (I mean, we know that).

For golfers it would look like this . . .

He/she’s missed every one of these short putts.
– Announcer

And then, they would (perversely) sink the putt! Ta da!

For the rest of us it might look more like this . . .

He/she’s never been able to lose weight /
finish a program /
find a good job /
stay in a relationship /
get a good photo of a hummingbird.
– Announcer

And then, we would (magically) be svelte, edumacated, gainfully employed, celebrants at our 37th anniversary, and holders of a photo credit in National Geographic. Or all of them at once! Ta da!

Of course, unlike the golfers my life has no on-air announcer, just that voice in my head. Some say our self-talk should be unremittingly positive. I dunno, I might give another approach a whirl for a while. The universe can *be* pretty perverse. And magical. You know?


Post script: This next bit came to me this week from that Big Coincidence-Maker in the sky. The set-up is that a wily suspect has eluded arrest by Inspector Grant and Sgt. Williams and is now on the run.

Three telephones kept ringing like demented things, and by post, telegram, wireless, and personal appearance the information poured in. Nine-tenths of it quite useless, but all of it requiring a hearing: some of it requiring much investigation before its uselessness became apparent. Grant looked at the massed pile of reports, and his self-control deserted him for a little.

“It’s a big price to pay for a moment’s lack of wit,” he said.

“Cheer up, sir,” said Williams. “It might be worse.”

“Might be worse! Would you tell me what occurrence would, in your opinion, augment the horror of the situation?”

“Oh, well, so far no nut has come to confess to the crime, and waste our time that way.”

But the nut arrived the next morning.

Grant looked up from inspecting a dew-drenched coat which had just been brought in, to see Williams closing the door mysteriously and mysteriously advancing on him.

“What is it, Williams?” he asked, his voice sharp with anticipation.

“The nut,” Williams said.

“The what?”

“The person to make a confession, sir.” Williams’s tone held a shade of guilt now, as if he felt that by mentioning the thing yesterday he had brought the evil to pass.

– “A Shilling for Candles” by Josephine Tey, published 1936

You see? Perverse.


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16 Responses to Speak of the Devil

  1. Tom Watson says:

    The “announcers curse” happens all the time. On Blue Jays Central, Jamie and Joe speak at length about how a particular player is tearing up the league, or about a particular pitcher is “lights out” every time he takes the mound. Guess what happens? The batter goes 0 for 5 that day. The pitcher is knocked out in the 3rd inning.

    I’m not sure, though, what the alternative is. So here we are caught…choosing our own devil I guess.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – It’s enough to make one wonder about the observer effect in physics, which postulates that merely observing a phenomenon necessarily changes its outcome.

      • Barbara Carlson says:

        An old friend had to leave the house when the men came to put in their huge plate-glass window. “I knew I would jinx it just being in the house, fretting, much less watching them do it.”

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – This notion of curses/jinxes is pretty deep in our psyches, I think. I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn it explicitly from my parents, but I did somehow absorb it from the ether.

          • Barbara Carlson says:

            Is it our lizard brain? whatever that did/does.

          • Isabel Gibson says:

            Barbara – It could be a cultural hangover from our pre-scientific period. When you have no basis for understanding or predicting outcomes, it’s easy to attribute results to irrelevant inputs or initial conditions.

  2. Tom Watson says:

    Hmmm….If that’s the case, there are some things I’d like to change, so…

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – LOL Not sure the observer gets to *select* the effect they have. Sorry! But if it works out for you, let me know and I’ll start marketing you. For an entirely reasonable percentage.

  3. Sid Dunning says:


    Say what you will but I was very careful about the order in which my equipment went on in preparation for a hockey game and if the goalie had a shut out going late in the game…………………..


    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Sid – No superstitions here, nosiree. Whatever works to settle you down. 🙂 Along with the rest of the country, we watched Bianca Andreescu’s last two games. She was wearing a coil thing above her right elbow – a hair tie of some sort, the announcer said. I guess she’d worn it by chance at an important game – and won – and has worn it ever since. It’s working pretty well so far!

      • Barbara Carlson says:

        SHUT UP!!!!!!! I would have yelled at the announcer, if I had any interest in that game. But glad she won.

        P.S. if you like J. Tey, have you read C.C. Benison, the Scottish dick: McTavish? They go down a treat. Very light reading.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – Yes, they seemed to be Serena fans/apologists to some degree – but not as extreme as some of the actual fans in the stands. Standing up and screaming (in delight mixed with a large dose of what looked like anger) when Serena made a point.

        • Barbara Carlson says:

          That was Hamish McBeth (there was a series years ago on TV) — c.c. benison author

  4. Judith Umbach says:

    Except for Bianca Andreescu! Hooray!!!!

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