Thursday, September 1, 2011

Knock On Wood

I woke this morning and was  talking to my husband about my daughter's car. It's been giving us some trouble, as of late. Seems like every time we turn around we've got to have it worked on. It isn't too bad since my husband is fluent in car parts/engines, but it is annoying. I was saying that her car seems to be working well, "Knock on Wood". It got me to thinking about where that phrase comes from. I like words and phrases and cliches. I like to know their origins, their beginnings so I got to think about it and what it might mean.
      It got me to thinking about trees and Dryads and other tree spirits. So I did a little research and I thought it was interesting. So here it is along with some pretty pictures of dryads and other tree spirits at the end.
       The phrase itself is considered to be a bit of superstitious doggerel. People use this phrase and the action it describes to prevent bad luck. In addition to the way I used it above, you can also use the phrase if you are wishful that something would happen. Like if you were making vacation plans you'd say, "We're driving to Florida tomorrow, 'knock wood' nothing bad happens. 
       Although the actual origin of the phrase is unknown, there are a lot of guesses. There are several theories about the origin of this very common practice. One goes back to the child's game of `tag.' In one version of this game the child who is able to touch a tree, thereby touching wood, is free from capture.
      Then there is a Biblical theory that the wood symbolizes the cross on which Christ was crucified. In Galatians (6:14) we find `But God forbid that I should glory, save the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.' The theory here is that if you have made an exaggerated boast you will be forgiven if you turn your thoughts to the Cross.
      Still another notion is that `knocking on wood' goes far back into ancient times, when spirits were thought to live in trees. So should danger threaten, simply rap on the trunk of a tree and summon up the aid of the good spirit within.
     There is a  Irish belief that you `knock on wood' to let the leprechauns or other tree spirits know that you are thanking them for a bit of good luck or letting them know that you are there.
     A Jewish version says it originated during the Spanish Inquisition under Torquemada during the 1490s. During that time Jews were in flight and since temples and synagogues were built of wood, they evolved a code to use in knocking on doors to gain admission. Since this resulted in lives being saved, it became commonplace to `knock on wood' for good luck.
      In Britain, touch wood, had an earlier Latin version used when touching wood - absit omen!, meaning 'far be that omen from us'. This dates from at least the early 17th century. Knock on wood - the American version, is known from the early 20th century.

I actually wrote this sometime last Spring. Since then we've had to do a few minor repairs to my daughter's car, but thankfully, nothing major, knock on wood.

1 comment:

  1. i have often wondered where certain phrases came from... thanks for the info, it is interesting