Shoes on a table
A common superstition is that bad luck will come to a person who places shoes on a table, whether in the form of a family argument, or risking death to a family member. It is believed that the superstition originates from the fact that new shoes originally had the soles affixed by hob nails, and these would cause scratches on a new table if they had not already been worn down.
Another belief common in the North of England is that the tradition relates to the coal mining industry. When a miner died in a colliery accident, his shoes were placed on the table as a sign of respect. By extension, doing so was seen as tempting fate or simply as bad taste.
In the world of theatre, putting shoes on a dressing room table is considered by some to bring the risk of a bad performance, just as "Break a leg!" is considered good luck. Also described as an old wives' tale, the superstition may date back to medieval times. Some sources ascribe the origin to the fact that criminals were hanged while still wearing their shoes. It may have something to do with death, and the idea of placing a new pair of shoes on the table would signify that someone had just died, or you would have bad luck for the rest of the day, quarrel with someone or lose your job.
Even among people who are not superstitious, shoes can be associated with contamination.
- David Pickering, Cassell's Dictionary of Superstitions (Sterling Publishing, 2002) p. 425
- Harry Collis and Joe Kohl, 101 American Superstitions (McGraw-Hill Professional, 1998) p. 69.
- Padmal de Silva and Stanley Rachman, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, (Oxford University Press, 2004) p. 34