touch wood

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From a folk practice of unclear origin.


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touch wood (third-person singular simple present touches wood, present participle touching wood, simple past and past participle touched wood)

  1. (UK, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Singapore) To make contact with wood to avert bad luck, in accordance with a folk practice.
    • 1930, John D. Stephenson, chapter I, in The Structure of English from Sentence to Essay, page 105:
      Touching wood possibly has reference to (a) the cross, or (b) the altar rails in days when criminals could take sanctuary in churches.
    • 2003, Chester Schneider, The Making of a Christian Psychiatrist, US: Xulon Press, page 193:
      Very few patients for whom I provided psychiatric treatment ended their lives by suicide, but I became increasingly convinced that my residency instructor who touched wood because none of his patients had killed themselves had not been treating many seriously mentally ill patients for any extended period of time.
    • 2010, Rhena Branch; Rob Willson, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Dummies, 2nd edition, UK: John Wiley & Sons, page 102:
      Examples of rituals include touching wood, repeating phrases in your mind, wearing lucky clothes or jewellery, and avoiding unlucky numbers, out of a faulty belief that these rituals will stop unfortunate or tragic events befalling yourself or your loved ones.
    Synonym: (US) knock on wood



touch wood

  1. (idiomatic, UK, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand) Hopefully; said while touching something wooden, to avert superstitious bad luck from what has just been said.
    And the reds are going to avoid relegation this year, touch wood.
    • 1988, Janette Turner Hospital, chapter I, in Charades, page 314:
      If it′s ever me (Jesus Christ, touch wood!), I don′t want you bringing me flowers.
    • 2008 March, Anna Friel; Deanna Kizis (interviewer), “A Conversation with: Anna Friel”, in Women′s Health, page 88:
      The English press has been very good to me, touch wood.
    • 2009, Lee Hobin, chapter I, in The Male Survival Guide to Pregnancy, page 59:
      I know I have my faults and one of them is my impatience and I also cannot tolerate people who are ill, mainly because I am so very rarely ill—“Touch wood,” I said out loud and touched my head at the same time.
    Synonym: (US) knock on wood

Usage notes[edit]

  • The expression is used superstitiously to avert the possibility that something just mentioned (if bad) might occur, or (if it is a good thing) might not occur. The action may or may not be performed, depending on how literally the speaker adheres to the superstition. If it is taken literally, it is usual to attempt physically to touch some wooden object whilst, or shortly after, exclaiming touch wood. Failure to find and touch a wooden item within a short time may be considered ominous, and cause mental distress to the person involved.


See also[edit]