For A Bit Of Luck, Opera Singers Say A Melange O' Tois

In a new installment of the "trade lingo" series on All Things Considered, Michelle Hackman explains what it means when an opera singer spits and says, "Toi, toi, toi."

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Time for some more trade lingo. We've asked you to send us phrases or bits of slang from your world - insider terms of the trade that would stump people on the outside. And today we have this phrase.

MICHELLE HACKMAN: Toi, toi, toi.

BLOCK: Toi, toi, toi - spelled T O I. That was sent to us by listener Michelle Hackman of Cary, Illinois. She's a professional opera singer and she told us she heard toi, toi, toi for the first time when she was in college. She was backstage before a performance.

HACKMAN: A voice teacher said it to one of the performers. And I said what is that? I've never heard that before in my life. It basically means break a leg. That's the term we use instead of break a leg or instead of good luck.

BLOCK: And when you heard it and you asked about it, what did they tell you?

HACKMAN: They said it was just the way to say good luck. And there was also a spitting motion. I'll pretend to spit over the shoulder. It's to ward off evil spells or bad luck. It's also - comes from the German term for devil, which is Teufel. And so they say it could be a shortened version of that. So speaking the devil's name to ward him off.

BLOCK: So I'm trying to picture this. If you're saying this, Michelle, you're - every time you say toi, are you turning to one shoulder or the other and sort of kind of making a spitting motion?

HACKMAN: Well, there are people who take it really seriously and do the toi, toi, toi and then pretend to spit over their shoulder. And then typically though you just say it - toi, toi, toi.

BLOCK: Michelle Hackman, thanks so much for talking to us.

HACKMAN: Thank you.

BLOCK: And do you have any interest in singing us out with something?

HACKMAN: (Singing) I am Rosina - dainty mouth.

BLOCK: Great - which is from what?

HACKMAN: That's from a performance I just did of "Hansel and Gretel" with Main Street Opera. And I played the witch. And we did it in English, not German.

BLOCK: Well, keep going.

HACKMAN: (Singing) I dearly love all boys and girls. I'm innocent as a newborn child. That's why the children come visit my house.

BLOCK: That's great. I didn't have time to tell you toi, toi, toi before you started. But you didn't need it. You did great.

HACKMAN: Oh, we said it enough. I think we're covered.

BLOCK: OK, great. Michelle, thank you so much.

HACKMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK SONG, "HEXENRITT")

BLOCK: Michelle Hackman of Cary, Illinois adding toi, toi, toi to our growing collection of trade lingo. The fun never stops. Please keep your trade lingo coming our way. You can send it to us on Twitter or Facebook. We're at @npratc.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK SONG, "HEXENRITT")

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