Real English Conversations: Itchy palms (superstitions)

Introduction: Hi! Lori here, welcoming you to another episode of Real English conversations from Better at English dot com. In today’s conversation, my English friend Michael and I talk about superstitions. You’ll learn about the idiom “to have an itchy palm” as well as what superstition tells us that it means when you really do have an itchy palm. Are you superstitious? We are curious about how many of our listeners believe in superstitions, so we’ve put a poll up on the website where you can tell us. You can find it at

(Poll deleted)

Thanks to everyone who voted in last week’s poll about naked cats. I’ve just looked at the results. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of you think that hairless cats are ugly. But 45 per cent of you do say that I should still get one. Only 12 per cent of you think that they’re cute. Oh well, to be honest, my mind was made up before the poll; it’s only Michael who needs to be convinced!

Right then, here comes this week’s conversation!

Conversation transcript

Lori: Oh, I’ve got this itchy palm. It’s totally itching. Doesn’t that mean something when your palm itches?
Michael: It means you have to wash your hands.

Lori: No, really! Isn’t it some superstition, something to do with money?
Michael: Like some sort of old wives’ tale or something about…?
Lori: Yeah, that you’re going to get money or something like that?
Michael: Well, off the top of my head I don’t know, but the only thing for it is to see what Google has to say.
Lori: Yeah, consult the Oracle.
Michael: Consult Google.
Lori: The Oracle of Google. What does it mean?
Michael: Give me a second…Itchy palm…Ah, OK! It’s a desire for money, or greed, or wanting a bribe, apparently. Like a hotel porter, you know, “The porter has an itchy palm,” he’s expecting you to give a big tip. Or, you know, someone could be known for having an itchy palm; I guess that means they’re known for being greedy.
Lori: Oh, OK. But isn’t that the idiom? Like if someone says “So-and-so has itchy palms”? What does it mean if your palm actually itches?
Michael: Oh, OK, let me see. Let me move down the list and see what Google has to say.
Lori: I hope it’s getting money…
Michael: Yeah, well actually, yeah, you’re right…it says…apparently having an itchy palm is an indicator of fortune coming your way…
Lori: Yes!
Michael: Or something like that. Umm, OK, Oh, hang on a minute.
Lori: Does it say anything about money? I could really use some…
Michael: Well, yes…Oh, wait a minute! Which, which one of your hands is it, the left or the right hand?
Lori: What, does it make a difference?
Michael: Ah, yes, it makes a big difference actually.
Lori: It’s the left one.
[long pause]
Michael: Ah.
Lori: Oh, that didn’t sound good.
Michael: No, you’re not going to like this. If you have an itchy right palm, apparently that means that you will receive money.
Lori: OK.
Michael: Do you want to hear this?
Lori: Oh no.
Michael: If you have an itchy left palm, it means you have to give money.
Lori: Oh no.
Michael: But wait a minute, isn’t it? It’s the time of year when you have to do your taxes! That’s what it must mean, it’s because you have to pay your taxes.
Lori: Yeah, I was just doing my taxes, just…in fact, I just finished them today.
Michael: OK.
Lori: Maybe that’s what it is.
Michael: Maybe you’ll be OK and you won’t get some big bill in the post just for taxes.
Lori: Well, plus I’m expecting a bill because when I leave for my vacation in a couple of days, I’m going to take my computer in and finally get it fixed so it will stop acting up. And I can imagine that that’s going to cost some money, so maybe that is is. Darn! I thought that I’d be getting some…winning the lottery or getting some unexpected windfall.
Michael: Yeah, well, we don’t believe in any of that stuff anyway.
Lori: No, actually, yeah, that’s true. But man, it really itches! It’s driving me crazy!
Michael: OK, well, you go wash your hands, young lady!
Lori: OK.

Final words
We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Real English Conversations. Michael and I will be interested to see how many of our listeners are superstitious, so hurry over to and cast your vote.

Before signing off, I have to say thanks so much to everyone who has donated to support Better At English this week and who has recorded messages for Michael and me on the website. We really appreciate your support, and getting messages from you totally makes our day. If you get value from our podcasts, please consider making a donation. It’s not mandatory, and we don’t expect it, but every little bit helps! That’s all for now, see you next time!

Vocabulary list

A superstition is an unscientific belief about the nature of the world, usually related to ideas about magic or the supernatural. People who believe in superstitions are superstitious.

old wives’ tale
An old wives’ tale is a piece of advice or information, usually about health, that people used to believe a long time ago but nowadays is known to be false.

off the top of my head
If you say something off the top of your head, it means that you are using the knowledge you have in your memory. People usually say this when they are not sure they are correct.


An oracle is someone who knows a lot about a subject and can give good advice.

A porter is someone who helps you carry your bags in a hotel.

A tip (n.) is a small amount of money that you give to someone for performing a service for you. You might tip (v.) a server in a restaurant or a porter in a hotel.

hang on
Informal for wait (a short time)

do your taxes
Doing your taxes means calculating your taxes and preparing the forms to submit to the tax agency.

A bill is a formal request for payment or money owed, often printed on paper.

acting up
To act up means to behave badly or not work properly. Both people and objects can act up.

A windfall is an unexpected amount of money that you win or receive.