8

In the US, it is common to use the idiomatic expression "knock on wood" to keep "a good thing going."

Is it the same in the UK, or do they use a different idiomatic expression?

  • 6
    Knock on wood is used to ward off bad luck resulting from the speaking of something good, i.e. to ward off evil spirits who might hear your confident statement and do you harm. It's a little different. – anongoodnurse Nov 28 '14 at 5:32
  • And if that doesn't do it, break a leg! – Hot Licks Nov 28 '14 at 23:16
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In the UK the expression is "touch wood". We are kinder to natural resources.

  • Thank you for your concise answer. I appreciate it. We too, however, are kind to our natural resources. In fact, much research is done weekly regarding how to make this a better planet. Cheers! – Patrick T. Randolph Nov 28 '14 at 5:55
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The AmE expression knock on wood and the BrE version touch wood ( which predates the American one) are two common 'superstitious' sayings:

  • knock on wood is used by people who rap their knuckles on a piece of wood hoping to stave off bad luck. In the UK, the phrase 'touch wood' is used - often jokingly by tapping one's head. The phrases are sometimes spoken when a person is already experiencing some good fortune and hope that it will continue - for example "I've been winning on every race - touch wood".

Origin:

  • The derivation may be the association that wood and trees have with good spirits in mythology, or with the Christian cross. It used to be considered good luck to tap trees to let the wood spirits within know you were there. Traditions of this sort still persist in Ireland.

  • The British version of the phrase - 'touch wood', predates the American 'knock on wood' and was itself preceded by a Latin version - 'absit omen', meaning 'far be that omen from us'. This dates from at least the early 17th century, when it is quoted by John Heywood in his collections of proverbs. It isn't clear when 'touch wood' began to be used as a token of good fortune but it must have been by 1850, when the academic correspondence magazine Notes and Queries published this:

    • There probably is some old English expression for averting evil, but it does not come to mind; "I touch wood," "Bar omen," "Bar ill-luck," seem clumsy.
  • 'Knock on wood' is known from the early 20th century; for example, The Syracuse Herald, February 1905:

    • Neglecting to knock on wood may have been responsible for the weather's unseemly behaviour today.

Touch wood :

  • (idiomatic, UK, Australia, New Zealand) Hopefully; said while touching something wooden, to avert superstitious bad luck from what has just been said.  

Ngram - AmE: knock on wood/touch wood

Ngram - BrE: knock on wood/touch wood.

(from the Phrase Finder)

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