If something is apotropaic, it means it’s designed to avert evil. The word comes from the Greek – ‘apo’ means ‘away’, while ‘trópos means ‘turn’. There are lots of obvious apotropaic symbols and actions that we still use today, like horseshoes, rabbit’s feet (yuck) or knocking on wood.

Now, if you’re easily offended (a) why are we friends, and (b), you might want to stop reading now. Still here? Good. While I was researching this, quite far down the Google search page I noticed the heading ‘Genitalia, As Apotropaic’. Obviously, I had to click on it (god knows what targeted advertising I’ll be getting from now on). And according to this article, people have been waving their rude bits around for 1,000s of years to fend off bad stuff. The article says that exposing your ladygarden in ancient Greece could scare off devils, evil spirits and gods, attacking troops and dangerous animals, while simultaneously stopping whirlwinds and thunderstorms. If you did it in old-timey Russia you could calm the sea and/or see off a bear. Handy.

Trouser snakes also have an apotropaic function. Representations of winkies were often carved above doorways in ancient Greece (you wouldn’t want to bang your head on that doorframe), while in ye olde Japan there was a whole set of gods who were represented as massive dongs. These were erected (hee hee) on bridges and roads to stop evil spirits. Unfortunately when Western travellers got that far they were super offended and the Japanese took them down. Damn us oversensitive Westerners.

(PS If I die tomorrow and the police check my internet search history, please let them know that it was all in the name of research. Thanks.)

Read the other words of the week.