Under is bad, but what about adjacent-to-under?
November 15, 2017 8:02 AM   Subscribe

According to superstition, walking under a ladder should be avoided because it brings bad luck. But what about when the ladder is leaning against something that you have to walk under? Is that still considered unlucky? Or is only the space directly under the ladder the bad-luck zone?

Yes, I know that superstitions aren't true, and that scientifically there's not even any such thing as luck. But bear with me - if you're a suspicious person, and believe it's unlucky to walk under ladders, is it also unlucky to, say, walk under a scaffolding in front of a building which has a ladder leaning against it, like so, such that you're still walking under the imaginary triangle made from the ground, to the building, to the wall? Or is it only the part directly under the ladder that can affect you?
posted by Mchelly to Religion & Philosophy (5 answers total)
I think the superstition comes from the very practical reason that it is actually dangerous to you and a person on the ladder to walk under a ladder.

From that perspective, I think the bad luck is confined to the triangle area, directly under the ladder, and not the scaffolding. The scaffolding is presumably structured in a way that it is deemed safe for pedestrians walking under it and not only is it not bad luck, but meant to be walked under.
posted by like_neon at 8:18 AM on November 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

To my mind, as someone who enjoys thinking about superstitions and knows what they are but then ignores them, I think scaffolding is okay even if there is a ladder leaning on it. Same is true for being on a covered porch where there is a ladder going to a first floor window. It's about actually walking under the ladder, not the space created by the ladder, what it is leaning on, and the actual building or eventual termination point of the thing and the ground. Put another way: I see it less like an eruv where the whole object is enclosing a space to make it fall under the rules that apply to it, and more like a narrowly-interpreted "Just the space created by the ladder and the shortest point to the ground from the top" space.
posted by jessamyn at 8:35 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

A few years ago, I was walking along the meant-for-walking area under one of those scaffolds. Someone above dropped a large and heavy wrench that went straight through a gap in the protective structure and landed on the sidewalk about 30 feet in front of me. Ever since then, I try not to walk under those construction areas, even though some have called me paranoid.

So I'd say it's bad luck, due to the actual risk of falling equipment.
posted by isthmus at 8:38 AM on November 15, 2017

It's still unlucky.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:53 AM on November 15, 2017

If I recall from my folklore days, one of the folk theories of the superstition was that one does not want to break the triangle representing the holy trinity. Might be regional and I can't source right now; the safety issue is obviously a practical origin.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:42 AM on November 15, 2017

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