The Meaning of Knock on Wood: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of knock on wood? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the phrase knock on wood, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences and more!

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What does the term knock on wood mean?

According to The Conversation, Cambridge English Dictionary and The Idioms, the phrase knock on wood is a superstitious term that is said by a person in order to avoid bad luck. This is either said when you mention hopes for the figure or luck that you have had in the past. In the UK and other parts of the word, people may opt to say “touch wood” instead of knock on wood. This term is used to bring good luck, and is often accompanied by rapping one’s knuckles on a nearby piece of wood. This phrase was used in ancient Pagan cultures and was through to bring good spirits and a good situation, and ward off bad spirits with the secret knocks.

Other languages also use their own expressions as a customary action to ward off misfortune. Knowing idioms like this is useful if you are going to be traveling abroad in a country that does not speak English as its first language. The below list of translations for the phrase knock on wood is provided by Word Sense.

  •  Italian: toccare ferro‎
  •  Russian: постуча́ть по де́реву‎ (pf), сплю́нуть че́рез ле́вое плечо́‎ (pf) (to spit over the left shoulder)
  •  Dutch: afkloppen‎, hout vasthouden‎ (mostly in Belgium)
  •  Estonian: vastu puud koputama‎
  •  Spanish: tocar madera‎
  •  Norwegian: banke i bordet‎
  •  Roman: kucnuti u drvo‎
  •  Swedish: (pepper, pepper, grip wood) peppar, peppar, ta i trä‎, peppar peppar‎
  •  Catalan: tocar fusta‎
  •  French: toucher du bois‎
  •  Greek: χτύπα ξύλο‎
  •  Turkish: tahtaya vur‎
  •  Finnish: koputtaa puuta‎
  •  German: auf Holz klopfen‎
  •  Romanian: a bate în lemn‎
  •  Portuguese: bater na madeira‎
  •  Persian: بزن به تخته‎ (bezan be taxta)

What is the origin of the term knock on wood?

According to TED-Ed, the origin of the expression touch wood dates back to pagan tradition in Europe. This phrase was an appeal to tree-dwelling spirits in the oak, ash, hazel, hawthorn and willow to ward off bad luck. Some people believe it was a Christian phrase, and that the wood referred to the cross of Christ’s crucifixion like expressions involving Judas or the holy trinity. It was also an expression of gratitude for good fortunes. This phrase dates back to the early 19th century in Medieval England, in a British children’s game called Tiggy Touchwood, a type of tag in which a player was “ safe” if they were touching wood or tree trunks. According to Phrases, this is related to the traditions of the darling buds of May in Ireland. 

The British touch wood precedes the American one, with both come from the Latin ‘absit omen’, meaning ‘far be that omen from us’. This Latin term has been used since the early 17th century. John Heywood used this phrase in his word A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue. Knock on wood has been used since the early 20th century to bar omen. One early example comes from the February 1905 Syracuse Herald in the quote, “Neglecting to knock on wood may have been responsible for the weather’s unseemly behaviour today.” Woodcraft also states that in the eighteenth century, soldiers would knock the wooden stock of their muzzle loader to settle the black powder charge. This is another possible origin.

How can someone use the term knock in wood in conversation?

The term knock on wood can be used in many different scenarios in the English language. Using terms in a sentence is a great way to memorize their definition. You can also try making flashcards or quizzes for yourself. Below are many examples of knock on wood being used in a sentence. In this first example, Person 1 is hoping for a promotion.

Person 1: I should hear about my promotion by the end of this week, knock on wood. It would be a great high note to the end of the year, and a great start to the new year with a brand new venture and a big pay hike.

Person 2: No need to be superstitious! I’m sure it’s coming your way.

Here, Person 1 uses knock on wood to eliminate any bad luck from his hopes of being promoted. In this next example, another person tries to ward off bad spirits.

Person 1: I walked under ladders and saw my unlucky number three times today. I better go knock on wood as a token of good fortune.

Person 2: You had better throw some salt over your shoulder while you’re at it. Pass any black cats on your way?

Here, Person 1 has already done a number of superstitious things that are considered unlucky, so they try to counteract it by knocking on wood and doing other superstitious things. Finally, Person 1 tries to make some good lucl.

Person 1: Knock on wood, I heard Jennifer saying she wanted to ask me to the dance! I hope she asks me soon!

Person 2: I heard the same thing!

Overall, the term knock on wood is the American version of the British version of the phrase touch wood. This term is used to bring good luck or bar ill-luck from occurring before or after saying a statement. This was initially an ancient superstition and Old English expression. In ancient mythology, wood spirits were considered good luck.


  1. Why we knock on wood for luck | The Conversation 
  2. knock on wood (touch wood) meaning, definition, examples, origin, synonyms | The Idioms 
  3. KNOCK ON WOOD | Cambridge English Dictionary 
  4. Why do we knock on wood? | TED-Ed 
  5. ‘Knock on wood’ – the meaning and origin of this phrase | Phrases 
  6. Knock on Wood | Wood Craft