Speak of the Devil

Speak (talk) of the Devil and he will appear.  

According to The Phrase Finder, the saying’s been around for hundreds of years in its longer form. The last four words have been dropped sometime between then and now, turning what might have been a cautionary saying bordering on superstition to an innocuous way to note when someone who is being talked of walks in.

I think there are very few adults who believe that speaking someone’s name will cause them to appear, even if repeated three times in Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice fashion. Still, I think there are very few adults who haven’t had the person they were talking about show up as if summoned or the person they’ve been meaning to call suddenly calling them. It’s serendipity if it’s a welcome appearance, like a bad penny if it isn’t.

There’s an undeniable power to words. Saying something aloud – a name, a fear, a joy – makes it real in a way that it wasn’t before it moved from thought to speech. It’s why saying the words I love yougood-byecome in!, and go away seems almost impossible at times. The words can’t be taken back, and the vulnerability they express cannot be denied or overlooked. Spoken words reveal us when they are true.

In its shorter/lighter or longer/darker form, it’s good to remember that the one we speak of will not magically or miraculously be summoned by our words; at the same time, speaking of and to another makes who we are and who they are more tangible, more real. It may not be magical, but I doubt it’s any less miraculous.

[The Phrase Finder is a wonderful resource created by Gary Martin. Visit it at www.phrases.org.uk.]

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I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

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