My husband and I are pretty rational people. He’s a scientist, for Pete’s sake. But more and more often we find ourselves falling prey to superstitious behavior. We pu pu pu like it’s going out of style.
So, what do the bubbes mean when they “pu pu pu“? It’s short for “Bli ayin hara pu pu pu,” which essentially translates as: “There should be no evil eye spit spit spit.” Its Yiddish cousin is “keynahora.”
Basically, there’s a superstitious fear that by speaking about your fortune you’re actually attracting the attention of the evil eye, who will come down and spoil it all. God forbid. (Have I mentioned that my 2-year-old says God forbid?!)
My husband and I never pu pu pu-ed before we had kids. And it’s not like we didn’t have good fortune to hedge against (love, marriage, new jobs). But I guess there’s something about the vulnerability of parenthood–being so responsible and so powerless all at the same time–that brings out our superstitious sides. Because suddenly we’re guarding against the evil eye at every turn.
Me: J’s doing so well in school! Him: Bli ayin hara pu pu pu. (POW!)
Him: Wow, S is getting cuter every day. Me: Bli ayin hara pu pu pu. (SHAZAM!)
And so on, in this way protecting our children from a boogeyman of our own creation.
Is this a Jewish parent affliction or it universal? A friend who was raised in a mixed household recently mentioned that she didn’t “get” pu pu pu. And I wondered–could it be because she didn’t have a Jewish mother? Maybe you need to be steeped in the precipitous history of the Jewish people in order to thoroughly and irrationally doubt the good fortune you’ve stumbled upon.
But then again, the Jews are not the only ones to have the tradition of an evil eye–it exists in every major religion, along with a bevy of superstitious wards to keep it away. Jews may have perfected the art of misfortune and historical vulnerability, but we certainly don’t have a monopoly on it.
The question is: does pu pu pu really have a place in modern, rational, safe and settled Jewish life? Spoken by a generation of Jews whose misfortunes are a far and distant cry from those of our ancestors?
For me, pu pu pu is really the flip side of another favorite Jewish expression, “Baruch Hashem” or “God is Blessed,” or more loosely translated, “Thank God.” I use this one very frequently, in response to basically any praise of my work, children, what have you. It’s my way of saying that I feel blessed by God, and constantly thankful of my good fortune. God is my silent partner. So I guess pu pu pu is my way of acknowledging that what has been given can be taken away. And that no matter how modern we are, we are all still powerless before the enormity of the unknown.
Do you pu pu pu?