Where Did the Phrase “Knock on Wood” Come From?
Cracking down on the meaning of this popular superstition, one knock at a time! Learn the "knock on wood" meaning and its origin story.
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Ever scrambled around looking for wood to ensure your luck? We certainly have, because this popular superstition is used frequently. Common superstitions are used daily, but we often overlook the origin and focus on what we should and shouldn’t do to bring good fortune and avoid any possible mishaps.
How did knocking on wood become the go-to action for warding off bad luck and bringing in the good? The origin of phrases can be confusing and exciting. Learn about the knock on wood meaning, and when you’re done, continue the adventure by learning about what “close, but no cigar” really means—we’d love to tell you here but we don’t want to spill the beans and let the cat out of the bag.
Where does the phrase “knock on wood” come from?
“Knock on wood” comes from at least the 19th century, according to sources, but the true origin remains unknown and heavily discussed. Many believe it originated with pagan groups and cultures around the world, such as the Celts, who worshipped and mythologized the trees. These groups believed the trees were home to their various gods and with the touch of wood, a spirit could bring protection. It may also have served as a way to show gratitude that would bring good fortune.
Another theory comes from British folklorist Steve Roud and his book The Lore of the Playground. Roud believes the superstition traces back to Britain with “Tiggy Touchwood”: a game of tag where children who touched a piece of wood were immune and given a form of protection from other players.
It’s safe to say that while the origin story behind the “knock on wood” phenomenon remains unknown, there are many theories that date back thousands of years! Make sure you also read up on why we say “piqued my interest.”
Why do we knock on wood?
While pagan groups have dissipated and we all play our own versions of tag, we can still find ourselves looking around for a piece of wood to bring us some good luck. Why do we continuously perform this act? Some habits are just hard to break! If you start a habit at a young age, it can be hard and/or uncomfortable to change your behavior as an adult, even though we are now able to logically understand it, especially when this habit has become second nature.
Not only do we get used to these repeating behaviors, our minds find it easier to knock on wood rather than avoid doing it since it’s an easy task to complete! Another reason why we continue knocking on wood is that we associate it with a moment where it seemed as though it worked. Talked to someone about a job, knocked on wood, and then got the job? That’s a memory that is associated with the act which makes us continue this pattern.
By the looks of it, knocking on wood isn’t going to end anytime soon. With a long history, memories, and repeated behavior, it looks like nature is lending a helping hand to bring in positive energy and fortune, one knock at a time.
- History.com: “Why do people knock on wood for luck?’
- Ted-Ed Blog: “Why do we knock on wood?”