Knock on Wood


The informant is a freshman at USC from Barrington, Illinois. During a call, I recorded an interview with them about rituals, superstitions, and festivals. When asked if they perform any superstitions, this is what they said. Important context to know is that their childhood home is a small ranch that has horses and other animals. They often go riding along trails near their home.


PL: The biggest superstition slash ritual that I practice is knocking on wood. So whenever I say a thing that I–Okay, so like, scenario, potential scenario, I’m on a trail ride. I ride horses, and I’m with like a parent, with my mother, and we’re riding and I’m like, wow, it’s such a sunny day. Or like, I’ll say knock on wood because I don’t want to incur like, the bad luck of like, it’s gonna start raining because I immediately noticed that it was a sunny day or like it’s raining. And I’ll be like, I’ll notice it stopped raining. And if–if I say, “Oh, wow, it finally let up” or something like that, I will say “Knock on wood” and I will literally turn my horse to the side of the trail, find a–find a tree, knock on it, and continue.

PL: In the same way, I will say knock on wood and find a piece of wood to knock on. If I say like, “Hope you don’t die” or things like that were, like, I say a thing, but I don’t want it to happen. Or I say a thing and I don’t want the opposite to happen. And I will say, “Knock on wood,” and then I will find the nearest piece of wood and take my hand and put my knuckles against it a couple times in a knock. Yeah.


“Knock on Wood” is a very common superstition in the United States, so it was not surprising to hear that this informant practiced this superstition. As the informant describes, the act of knocking on wood is meant to solidify a blessing or ensure that the opposite of a desired result does not happen. In this way, I feel that the practice is linked to the idea of a “jinx”–the idea being that if you vocalize a desired result, the opposite may happen as a direct result of that vocalization. “Knocking on wood” is thus intended to negate the effects of this jinx.