Knock on wood

A broken door knocker in the form of a Sphinx’s head

wiki: Knocking on wood refers to the apotropaic tradition in western folklore of literally touching, tapping, or knocking on wood, or merely stating that you are doing or intend same, in order to avoid “tempting fate” after making a favourable observation, a boast, or declaration concerning one’s own death or other unfavorable situation beyond one’s control

Cultural origins

~ In Indonesia, when someone is saying bad things, the one that hears it would knock on wood (or anything) and knock their forehead saying “amit-amit”

~ In Italy, “tocca ferro” (touch iron) is used, especially after seeing an undertaker or something related to death

~ In Iran, “Bezænæm be Tæchte (knock on the wood), when one says something good about something or somebody, he will knock on the wood, saying “bezan-am be takhteh, cheshm nakhoreh” ([I] am knocking on the wood, to prevent -it, he, or she- from being jinxed). Evil eye, and being jinxed is a common phobia & superstitious belief in the Iranian culture. Iranians traditionally believe knocking on the wood wards off evil spirits

~ In Egypt, “Emsek El Khashab (Hold the wood), people say it when mention good luck that you have had in the past or when you mention hopes you have for the future. The expression is usually used in the hope that a good thing will continue to occur after it has been acknowledged. And to prevent Envy

~ In old English folklore, “knocking on wood” also referred to when people spoke of secrets – they went into the isolated woods to talk privately and “knocked” on the trees when they were talking to hide their communication from evil spirits who would be unable to hear when they knocked. Another version holds that the act of knocking was to perk up the spirits to make them work in the requester’s favor

~ In Romania, there is also a superstition that one can avoid bad things aforementioned by literally knocking on wood (“a bate în lemn”). Wood tables are exempted. One of the possible reasons could be that there is a monastery practice to call people to pray by playing / knocking the simantron

~ In Bulgaria the superstition of “knock on wood” is reserved for protection against the evil, and is not typically used for attracting good luck. Usually people engage in the practice in reaction to bad news, actual or merely imagined. In most cases the nearest wooden object is used (in some areas, however, tables are exempt); if there are no such objects within immediate reach, a common tongue-in-cheek practice is to knock on one’s head. Knocking on wood is often followed by lightly pulling one’s earlobe with the same hand. Common phrases to accompany the ritual are “God guard us” and “May the Devil not hear”

~ In Croatia and Serbia there is also the habit of knocking on wood when saying something positive or affirmative about someone or something and not wanting that to change. Frequently the movement of knocking on nearby wood is followed by “Da pokucam u drvo” (I will knock on wood), or sometimes by “Da ne ureknem” (I don’t want to jinx it)

~ In Poland, as well as in Russia, there is a habit of knocking on (unpainted) wood (which may be preceded by saying odpukać w niemalowane drewno or simply odpukać, literally meaning to knock on unpainted wood) when saying something negative – to prevent it from happening – or, more rarely, something positive – in order not to “spoil it”

~ In Turkey, when someone hears about a bad experience someone else had, he/she may gently pull one earlobe, and knock on a wood twice, which means “God save me from that thing”




2 comments on “Knock on wood”

  1. So interesting to hear that ‘knock on wood’ is world wide. I never knew that.

    • And I forgot to write that we have the expression in Greece too; it’s something like “God forbid”. Seems like we have more things in common than we thought…

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