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Knock On Wood

dragon door knocker. knock on wood

Knock On Wood Definition

Knock on wood.

A gesture made after speaking of one’s good fortune in order to not tempt fate and continue one’s good luck in the future. Often the person will enact the superstition by physically knocking on wood if there is some nearby.

Knock On Wood Examples

  • I’ve managed to avoid speaking in front of the whole class so far this semester, knock on wood.
  • Four hours at the casino and I’m up $400! Knock on wood!


I’m not actively seeking stardom. I just go to auditions, and I knock on wood.

Paul Rudd

My,’ she said. ‘We’re lucky that you found the place.’

We’re always lucky,’ I said and like a fool I did not knock on wood. There was wood everywhere in that apartment to knock on too.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Knock On Wood Origin

Literary Origin

“How utterly dreadful!” “Wasn’t it? And then the umbrellas and hand kerchiefs I lose— not to speak of purses, with money in them!” .. . . “I never carry much money in my purse. .” said Miss Merivale. “It’s the last place in the world to keep money! Pocketbooks. Handkerchiefs and umbrellas are all made to be lost; that’s the main purpose of their existence. Put no more in your pocketbook than yon can afford to lose without shedding tears.” Edith!” cried Mr?. Weldon. “My goodness. Edith!” Cried Mrs. Weldon “The idea of losing your pocketbook! Why, I never” — “Knock on wood!” reclaimed several voices, simultaneously. “Where do you carry your money? Some one said to Miss Merivale. “Pinned In my blouse.” she answered promptly

New York Tribune February 8, 1903

Our superstitions earliest appearance in text as we use it today comes from a story in the New York Tribune titled It Deplores the Freakishness of the Human Brain. The story involves two early 20th century woman describing how outrageously absent-minded they can be. Telling times they’ve lost umbrellas and purses in places, missing trains or setting up complex dinners on the wrong day.

Spiritual Origin

The phrase knock on wood almost certainly evolved from the English ‘touch wood’. A phrase that shares an identical superstitious meaning.

According to expert folklorist Steve Roud in his book The Lore of the Playground, The most likely origin of this phrase comes from a 19th century children’s game Tiggy Touchwood. A form of tag where players who are not ‘it’ are safe when touching anything made of wood, like a door or post. With the game emphasizing wood as protection it’s believed that our phrase was adapted from these children’s games.

There are sources that claim our idiom originates from ancient superstitions where knocking on wood summons good spirits or distracts evil ones. Steve Roud claims this origin as nonsense. I have also not found any ancient records proving these claims. However, touching or knocking on wood as a superstition exists in many cultures including Norway, Brazil, Indonesia and Egypt. With this superstition existing in so many cultures far older than modern America and England, I believe it’s true origin is not quite as simple as a little game of Tiggy Touchwood.