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I'm trying to understand how to express a concept from my culture in English. In my language, we have a term, which roughly translates to casting the evil eye. This term is often used in situations where someone's success, happiness, or good qualities might inadvertently attract jealousy or harm, often through someone's envious glance or comments.

For example, if I compliment someone's achievements, I might worry about "evil eye" - inadvertently causing them harm through my praise due to envy or negative energies.

Could you please help me understand if there is an equivalent phrase or concept in English?

4 Answers 4

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Well, there’s always “Evil Eye

However, it’s a slightly exotic concept to English speakers. It also encompasses a wide diversity of West Asian, Middle-Eastern, and Eastern European beliefs into a single phrase.

Most English speakers would understand the concept but it’s something that other people believe; sort of like the way a well-known Christian belief like the Eucharist would sound to a Hindu, or, for that matter, to a Christian who doesn’t practice it. The specific nuance that you are looking for that bad luck coming from praise will probably be missed.

Better is “don’t jinx it”

Now, this is such a common expression that I was sure I could find a simple definition in an online dictionary; but I can’t.

I can find the Guinness ad campaign from last year. And this Simpson’s clip - if it’s on the Simpsons it’s an embedded part of the culture.

Anyway, a jinx is a curse and can be a noun or a verb. “Don’t jinx it” is something you might say when some has or is about to call attention to a good outcome - by doing so, they will bring on a jinx that causes the oposite.

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    +1 for "Don't Jinx It", as a native British English speaker I believe this best matches the example OP gave. Also applicable in unusually calm situations, such as an IT helpdesk on Friday afternoon when there are no calls. Someone calls attention to it by saying "It's very quiet today, isn't it?". The appropriate response is "Don't jinx it!", because the mere mention that everyone is enjoying a quiet afternoon is enough to cause a major server to crash!
    – ThaRobster
    Jan 12 at 10:35
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    I also think jinx is the way to go. Evil eye in English is very likely to imply malice (either a literal magical curse, or a metaphorical one). And normally someone has the power to cast the evil eye, rather than it being a symbol of impersonal bad luck affecting the recipient.
    – Chris H
    Jan 12 at 11:18
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    I'm a Brit, and I might superstitiously say 'Don't tempt fate.', or 'Don't speak too soon!' in response to prematurely optimistic predictions or hopes. Jan 12 at 12:33
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    @ThaRobster I believe the word quiet (often bowdlerized as "the q-word") is especially taboo among practitioners of emergency medicine. Don't say that an Emergency Room or Accident & Emergency department at a hospital is q-word.
    – bdsl
    Jan 12 at 13:09
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    @bdsl the q-word is also considered bad luck in event running, specifically safety services (particularly not helped in one of my teams by something absolutely terrible happening seconds after someone said it two nights in a row). I'd wager lots of other groups are highly superstitious about that q-word too!
    – Allison C
    Jan 12 at 16:31
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The concept "evil eye" carries over literally into English. It is fairly common, as shown in Google's NGRAM, much more frequently used than some synonyms, such as "dirty look, "look daggers" and "the green eyed monster".

BTW, when someone mentions good news, it's not uncommon for the person to say, "knock on wood," to "avert the evil eye." That phrase is also common in the Western world, from Egypt to England, from Lebanon to Latin America, and there is a common Yiddish expression, "kein eyin hara", which literally translates to, "without the evil eye," used in the same way.

You might also find the hamsa (خمسة or khamsa, chamsa) interesting in connection with evil eye.

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    ‘Evil eye’ gets far more hits on Google NGram because it’s a much more general term in English than the others and encapsulates a number of slightly different concepts from other cultures. ‘green-eyed monster’ is specifically a euphemism for envy or jealousy, ‘look daggers’ is specifically referring to wishing harm on someone, ‘dirty look’ ranges from general disapproval to a near synonym for ‘look daggers’. ‘evil eye’ could match with any of those except possibly for the more mild meanings of ‘dirty look’, but it also might refer to other things as well. Jan 12 at 13:27
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    Yiddish: The usual spelling is "kein ayin hara." Leo Rosten's "The Joys of Yiddish" offers alternate transliterations as kayn aynhoreh, kineahora and kine-ahora. I've overheard a conversation between Jewish women looking at baby photos that included a phrase that sounded like "kinney-horah-pooh-pooh-pooh" as if to blow away the evil eye with the expulsion of breath. Delightful!
    – MTA
    Jan 12 at 13:27
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    kein eien-horeh. Interesting blend of German and Hebrew in the compound noun.
    – TimR
    Jan 12 at 15:36
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    Afaik "green-eyed monster" refers to jealousy, not the evil eye.
    – bdsl
    Jan 12 at 16:40
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    @TimR, yes, you're correct, it's a portmanteau word now, disconnected from it's roots. BTW, the first word could be "keine', German "not, without" or "k'ain", Hebrew "without" ["k'" prefix, "as", and "ain", "not"]. Consider the English "hiccup", which recently was spelled "hiccough", having nothing to do with a "cup", but a "cough", which had the spoken guttural "gh", a while back. Etymology is intriguing. Jan 15 at 14:38
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"Jinx is the way to go. Evil eye in English is very likely to imply malice (either a literal magical curse, or a metaphorical one). And normally someone has the power to cast the evil eye, rather than it being a symbol of impersonal bad luck affecting the recipient."

The Crystal Cave (1970) Mary Stewart

They also pass St. Peter's nunnery, home of his mother, but they don't stop, continuing on instead towards the cave. Merlin finds himself watching for the ring-dove, but the hillside, this time, is quiet. Merlin has Cadal wait by the horses at the entrance to the cave, warning him that what he might think is smoke will only be the bats. Cadal once again makes the sign against the evil eye, causing Merlin just to laugh.

https://thebestnotes.com/booknotes/crystal_cave_stewart/Crystal_Cave_Study_Guide20.html

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“Evil eye” is a concept that is well known in English speaking countries. Jinx and bad luck are also acceptable substitutes. Curse and spell as well.

Here are some examples of them being used in Western literature; starting with “jinx”:

“I write a good amount. I've been gathering up a backlog of stuff and maybe I'll do something with it someday, but I don't want to talk about it just yet because that would jinx it.” — Macaulay Culkin

Here is a quote about “bad luck”:

“I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Here is a quote about “curse”:

“Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.” — William Shakespeare

And finally, here is a quote about “spell”:

“The best artist has that thought alone Which is contained within the marble shell; The sculptor's hand can only break the spell To free the figures slumbering in the stone.” — Michelangelo

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