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The Bride's Guide Blog

Etiquette: When You Receive a Present That Cuts

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In our Fall issue (on newsstands now!), there's a great story about registering for flatware. (Which reminded me, I need to get some nicer steak knives.) Did you know there's a superstition about receiving knives as a gift? It applies to can openers, too, or scissors -- anything with a blade.

Apparently it's bad luck to be given something that can sever. The blade, it's thought, will sever the friendship. It's especially bad luck for a wedding gift, where the fear is that the sharp edge will sever the marriage vows.

Some people hold this superstition so strongly that they disapprove of giving knives as wedding gifts. But for most people, the solution is to have the bride "buy" the knife from you instead, for a token amount (usually a penny; sometimes a nickel). My relatives went so far as to insist I follow this rule even for something with as dull a blade as a table knife.

Some gift givers will include the penny for you to give back to them, but that seems to me to defeat the purpose; how much of a "purchase" can you make with money that's been given to you from the person you're supposed to pay?

Have you heard of this? Are you prepared with pennies? Or is this an antiquated superstition you won't be giving any attention to?

Comments (46)

  • Never heard of it... and I'm still registering for my Wusthofs! :)

  • I hadn't realized this was a superstitious thing thing... I'd always just assumed it was a cultural thing. My mom's Asian, and so my relatives of that side of the family have very strongly ingrained in me that you do NOT give knives as gifts, as this is a terrible omen. To solve it, I didn't register for any knives other than my flatware knives, my grandmother got all of them for me and I "bought" them from her for $1 and a kiss. :)

  • @Laura -- that's funny, that it's Asian as well. In my research, I found tons of references to it as a *European* superstition.

    I'm just remembering: I bought my cousin Kelsea the knives she registered for, because I love good kitchen knives. But she didn't pay me, and I didn't even think of it.

  • I had never heard of this superstition till my husband and I were engaged. We received several knife sets with a penny enclosed from people on my husband's side.

    My mother-in-law said the penny was supposed to un-do the bad luck of giving a cutting gift. No one mentioned that we were supposed to return the penny.

    ... I think I still have the gift list from our wedding, but can anyone tell me what a penny is worth after 23 years of inflation?

  • @Ohio Betty: Well, I guess the "curse" didn't work, right? 23 years . . .

    The inflation rate for the last 23 years is 94.86%, according to this calculator:
    http://www.inflationdata.com/inflation/Inflation_Calculators/Inflation_Rate_Calculator.asp#calcresults

    So, you owe those folks 96¢--1¢ + 95¢. ;-)

  • Yes, I've heard of this and have never given knives unless I give a penny along with it. The superstition that I'm aware of is that the knife would sever the relationship between the giver and the giftee. The idea behind giving a penny along w/ the knife is that you lend the penny to them to buy the knife from you, then you forget the loan. It's really crazy, I know, but if it makes u feel better...
    I just realized my sister-in law gave me a whole bunch of knives recently. I'll have to give her a penny for each one the next time I see her.

  • My grandmother taught me this at a young age, and I still abide by it. (She's 96, I'm 39).

  • I didn't know about the knives but I do know wallets and purses are supposed to be given with a coin or more inside as a wish that the recepient is never without funds.

  • My late mother-in-law used to say that you had to cut some paper or something with it first if it was a gife.

  • yes, I have heard of the knife or sharp gift 'cutting your friendship' and have actually
    given a penny for them. My aunt told me years ago

  • Oh, is that why there were pennies stashed in the knives that I received? Why doesn't anyone tell me these things?!?!?! 12 years later, it would be tacky to give them the penny back.

    I just thought the penny was in there for good luck or something.

  • I was taught that including the penny was a reassurance that a knife was a gift, and not a sign that you wished the other person harm -- although now that I put that in writing, it seems kind of insane (or medieval) to have to make the distinction. I've never heard anything about giving the penny back.

    I love to cook, so I think that good knives are a wonderful gift. In the last few months I've given them twice; once to a bride who had them on her registry, and once to my daughter, for her new apartment. I didn't include a penny either time but no one complained.

    I've also heard about including a penny with a gift of a handbag or wallet, but here's one that's new to me: a friend, originally from Honduras, goes nuts when she sees me put my purse on the floor. Apparently if you do that, all your money will run out!

  • Wow -- Talley Sue Hohfeld -- that's some bad math you're working there. If the inflation rate is 95%, that means that the penny would now be worth about 2 cents -- 1 cent + .95 cents. If you made investments that went up from $1 to $100 since 1987, I'd sure like to see those. That would be like buying a house for $100,000 and it now being worth $10 million.

  • Well, I followed the directions on that website. Maybe I read them wrong. But the 94.7% (I rounded up) came straight from their calculator. They use the Consumer Price Index.

    However, a calculator one the Bureau of Labor Statistics's website says that 1 penny in 1987 has the buying power of 2 pennies today.

    http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

    So, I stand corrected, Ohio Betty! It's only 2 cents, if all you're correcting for is inflation. (Though people still only us a penny today, so I'm not sure you need to correct for that.)

    Thanks for the head's up, Marlene!

    (remember that the inflation of prices won't ever be the same as the interest on an investment)

  • I've always given a coin to the person giving me any kind of knife (heard this for many years). I have a question regarding knives - how do you dispose of old knives safely?

  • Who lives this way? Superstitions are cultural leftovers and have no place in a modern world.

  • I can vouch for the "European" part of this ... my mom is Irish / English and has a bunch of these old superstitions. Everyone in my family puts in a penny when they're giving a knife as a gift.

    I still do this stuff ... because I love the (generally) pagan story behind the superstition. Knocking on wood to call on the good spirits within to come to your aid. Stuff like that. Drives my mom crazy.

  • I heard it, but didn't follow it. My sister gave me knives as housewarming gift years ago. For the first year, I cut myself everytime I used them. Mostly just a nick, but a cut nonetheless. Btw, I knew it as a Jewish tradition,

  • I used to do this, too, but for the life of me I don't know where I picked it up. It wasn't from my family. If I gave someone a knife, for whatever occasion, I'd say, 'That will be a penny, please'.

    I've heard a similar superstition about handkerchiefs. If you give a gift of a handkerchief, supposedly it will be followed by tears and sorrow.

  • Superstitions are superstitions and that is all they are. Some crazy worthless something or another that some one has made up just to think that if you do this than every thing will be OK...Well I don't think that happen then and I know it does not happen that way now...We have enough in like to think an worry about than to help keep all sorts of superstitions alive...I agree with Belinda, who lives that way and why in the world would you want to. It does not make any thing any better than what you can do.

  • My mom and grandmother passed this tradition on to me. Just this Saturday I gave my nephew a Sykes/Fairborn knife as a birthday present. Of course I had him give me a penny first so's to not risk 'severing' our relationship. (He had to borrow one from his mom, though. :-) ) Mom's family was English, Welsh, French, & German (and who knows what else) so the tradition was common with the Europeans of old.

  • I think these superstitions are amusing and if I feel custom requires a penny for knives and I think it might matter to the recipient, I'd do it, but for custom, not superstition. I do religiously put a penny in a wallet and try to find a shiny one. If I get one, I always look for it! Things like this do crop up at occasions like this and always a ppear in
    the bridal books as "old customs" What's the harm?

  • hah. i had heard this and forgotten it. learned it from my mom. strangely enough, she gave me a very nice kitchen knife shortly after i moved back to their area. the relationship did not proceed well, and she sort of ended up throwing me out of the family (long story). i don't think the knife caused this, that would be silly. but i do know my mom, and her belief in traditions and etiquette, and just how very passive-aggressive she is.

    it's really a great knife. way better knife than my relationship with my mother ever was, certainly than it is now.

  • i meant to add that when she gave me the knife, she did not give me a penny or make reference to it, and normally she's the first to nag somebody who forgets a tradition.

  • This old custom is also in one of the Anne of Green Gables books. In one of the books Gilbert gives her a knife, I think it was a pen knife, as a gift and Anne gives him a penny saying that now the knife will not cut her.

  • I remember this. My Grandfather once gave me a cheese knife and board from some tourist place he had visited and he insisted I give him a penny in return. That was in the 1970s. I'd never heard of it before then.

  • I had heard of this, but was instead told to "steal" the knife, when the gift giver wasn't looking. They left it out for me on a table overnight, and I was to have taken it by morning!

  • I had never heard of the knife superstitions until I was talking with one of my dearest friends, who I met after my own wedding (where I've reccived sets of knives and no pennies or comments). Much of the time we've spent together has been around the preparation/eating food for my family or for special events in one or both of our families. She does not have a decent set of knives, which we both agree is one of the most important kitchen tools. I told her that when she got married I was going to buy her a really good set of kitchen knives because I wanted to give her something she would probably use daily for the rest of her life. She totally freaked out and made me promise to never give knives as a gift. She was truly frightened. For her, it was partly cultural, partly religious, and partly familial custom. She is from India but lives now in the US. Some parts of her family may be from small villages, but my friend holds three masters degrees from US Universities.

  • I just gave someone a mandolin for a wedding gift, did I just ruin everything?

    Never heard of this, in fact I gave my boyfriend a knife for Christmas once, since he liked to cook but only had one old crappy knife (it had a wooden handle that was about to come apart) I didn't want him to chop his fingers off with that thing so I got him this really nice Japanese chef's knife
    He proposed to me a few days later, and we have been very happily married, so it can't be such bad luck can it?

  • I always thought it was a Jewish tradition. My mom taught it to me, and she was right about everything, so why take a chance? On the other hand, she worked in the kitchen department of Boston's much beloved Jordan Marsh store. She probably sold lots of knives (as in really sold them) but the store went out of business anyway. So even paying customers had to sever their relationship with their favorite department store.

  • We're Irish, and subscribe to this tradition, too.
    And another that says a purse or wallet should never been given "empty", but should always have a coin included in it.

  • Oops! Never heard of this one. Maybe I shouldn't have given my nephew & his bride "The Ex Knife Set" that he wanted - check it out on Amazon.... :P

  • I have heard of this superstition but not all of it. My mom told me that tradition is to include a small coin when you give a knife (I had bought a pocketknife as a gift for a boyfriend) because somehow the coin will prevent the knife from severing the friendship. I did it for tradition's sake.

  • One Christmas there was a teeny-tiny package under the tree for my brother. After weeks of wondering, Christmas Day finally came and my brother opened the package. Inside, there was a shiny new penny. My brother was a bit disappointed and perplexed. However, after a few minutes, my dad took a package out of his pocket and said to my brother, "Trade ya." My brother took the trade--and got a fantastic new Swiss Army knife!!

  • I have never heard of this. I've both given and received knives for gifts throughout my adult life and this is a surprise for me. I, too, feel this is mindless superstition and has no place in modern life.

  • Superstitions have the effect of "setting" the individual's mind. Therefore, they are useful and adaptive. The scoffers don't understand the importance of ritual and custom in the lives of people.

  • My mother told me that it was 'a penny a point' that was to be paid.

  • You should look into Frazer's work on superstition. The association between knives/blades and severing a relationship is a classic example of homeopathic magic.

  • This is the only superstition that I truly abide by. It has happened to me SO many times. Well, FIVE to be exact. Three best friends, two girlfriends. Each time a knife was given, left behind, or stolen, the relationship ended VERY SWIFTLY afterwards, when things up until that point were going very well. BELIEVE it. It's true. And I don't believe in ghosts, or bigfoot or aliens (ok yes I do believe that there is alien life out there, I'm just not sure that they're visiting Earth at this point.. i think it would be more likely to be interdimental beings.. if that tells you a little bit more about me lol) Anyways, don't give a knife unless you want it to end. On the flip side, if you DO want it to end, you can disguise your intentions by purposely giving someone a knife as a gift.

  • well i got knives this christmas from my bf, He said hed rather have gotten me a ring... My gf suggested waking him up with one at his throat,.:) the evil thought ammused me. but ill be honest, if your going to get your gf something that should go on her finger id suggested doing that...cause we had a good set of knives....... anyhow. valentines is coming tommorow, doubt if ill get a ring after the way i reacted to the knives.. maybe i ll get a card, might be the safest bet for him.:)

  • My grandmother always said to "give a copper, so sharp words are never spoken". I may not be as superstitious as she, but I like to do this. It's a fun and wonderful tradition, and makes for interesting conversation.

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  • my mom was irish and also said to give a penny but added: to rub the tip of knife with penny to not sever friendship

  • This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of. I have a friend who has been envying a small serrated knife I've owned and which she used a lot of when we were roommates. Her birthday rolled around and I ordered her a brand new one to have sent for her birthday since she doesn't want a lot of "stuff" and is very picky about things. Upon receiving it she barely thanked me and then went on to say, "We won't consider this a gift though as in Italian culture, it is bad luck to give knifes." Well, she isn't Italian and I was really offended by this. So in essence, this does work in some way as after many instances of disrespect and condescension towards me over the years, I've decided to severely reduce contact with her. I just thought it was rude what she said to me.

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