The Ramblings of Amazingness by Jenny J Bean

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Knocking on Wood… Or Not? February 15, 2010

Filed under: Randomness — The Ramblings of Amazingness By Jenny J Bean @ 2:09 pm

There have been a number of times where I have told a friend or relative of something good happening in my life, and have either said ‘knock on wood’ or have actually knocked on wood. In my head, it’s like saying “I don’t want to jinx it” and “Thank goodness” in hoping for good things to continue.

I was telling one of my cousins yesterday about my theater work, and I ended the conversation by knocking on wood. My cousin informed me that I shouldn’t ‘knock on wood’ as a concept. I didn’t get into a conversation with him about it, because I knew what he was going to say as I heard it from his father a little over a year ago: ‘Knocking on wood’ as a concept was supposedly begun as a way to pay homage to Jesus on the cross and thank him for the good fortune that he has bestowed, and since I am of the Jewish faith, by knocking on wood, I’m essentially thanking the wrong deity. (Although I do have very strong feelings that the intent of action is just as, if not more important than the action itself– and, clearly, I had no religious intention in knocking on wood– but I’ll save that for another day.) Having had a second conversation about it, I went looking for evidence to support this to see whether or not I should stop ‘knocking on wood’ as my cousins suggested I should…

I’m finding a very mixed bag of answers:

From 1805 and 1828 references concern chasing games like “Tiggy-touch-wood”, where you are safe from being “tagged” if you “touch wood”. ‘Tiggy-touch-wood’ was an extremely well-known game, and it is most likely that the phrase passed into everyday language.”

Others say it is predated by “Stomp on Wood” which was used in the early 1800s. It was said to originate from early settlers when they would stomp the floor in their log cabins to avoid bad luck (which might’ve been related to the cross, but there are no direct ties). The saying “Knocking on Wood” was recorded only after the early 1900s.

However, there are other cultures that don’t actually say “knock on wood”– Christian Arabs don’t have such a phrase, they just say “In the name of the Cross” when hoping for good things to continue (which is clearly religious), where non-Christian Arabs and in many other non-Christian parts of the world just say ‘knock on wood’ or ‘touch wood’ which leads me to believe, if entire non-Christian religious cultures also use the phrase, that it’s more of a secular thing whether or not it originated as such.

So, knowing all of that, the question remains. Should I stop saying it on the chance that it might be somewhat related to Christ, do I keep on saying it on principle, do I stop saying it because it’s easier not to argue about it, or do I let it go because it doesn’t matter in the first place?


Jenny J Bean


2 Responses to “Knocking on Wood… Or Not?”

  1. Sara Says:

    You are a goober and that is why I love you.

  2. giacchi Says:

    interesting, altho i’ve never heard the jesus connection.

    anyway, here’s an alternate take from
    “Experts think it may have originated from the time of the ancient Druids, an order of Celtic priests in Ireland and Britain.”

    “One belief system including such [evil] spirits is druidism, which postulated that such creatures inhabited the trees. Hence the custom of ‘knocking on wood’ to drive away such gremlins when speaking of one’s own good fortune.”
    [also] “Another comment: I’ve heard that people knocked on wood because they believed the devil dwelled within wood. They were trying to deafen him so he could not spoil the positive thing they had just spoke of.”

    meanwhile, i’m gonna stick with kineahora…! : )

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