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Earthdragon

Touch wood

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Earthdragon
Posted (edited)

There may well be pagan origins to the use of the phrase "touch wood" - usually spoken after referring to a preferred outcome that may be in the offing.

Where do you think the saying might come from? 

A few ideas are found in this article .

I always remember the joke whereby one touches one's temple as a substitute 😄

Do you use it and if so are there any beliefs that might be tapped into consciously or subconsciously?

 

 

Edited by Earthdragon

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Stonehugger

I'd always assumed it was from a children's game, as the article ED linked to says near the end. They're often called "truce words", of which "barley" is very common. In and near Southampton, the dialect word used to be "cribs". Where I part company with the article is right at the end where it says: "But for anyone who may be superstitious, we're sure knocking on wood is no child's play." The implication is that child's play is somehow divorced from paganism, whereas I would suggest the opposite. Child's play would be a very good place to look for vestiges of old beliefs and practices.

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Stonehugger
5 hours ago, Earthdragon said:

one touches one's temple as a substitute

Doesn't everyone tap their head when they say "touch wood"?

For some strange reason, my favourite donkey-themed pub name comes to mind - the Ass and Elbow

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Moonsmith

I have always understood that to touch wood averts malevolent forces / entities who might frustrate a stated and hoped for outcome.

 Even in my Anglican household it was generally understood that benevolent nature spirits dwelled  within the natural material and would counter the malevolence.

 Tapping ones head, as I interpreted it,  indicated that the head in question was also made of wood.

 Gestures seem to prevail beyond their origins.  Most of my life, rotating an imaginary handle beside the head indicated a telephone call.  I’ve no idea whether it persists yet. The rotating operator call handle was obsolete three generations before mine never mind yours.

 While working in forests near Oban it was quite usual to hear any statement of future activity followed by the caveat, “If I’m spared,” frequently accompanied by a furtive glance upward even by those to whom any threat was likely to come from the opposite direction.

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Stonehugger
1 hour ago, Moonsmith said:

I’ve no idea whether it persists yet.

There was something on the radio this morning or yesterday about outdated signs, including looking at one's wrist when talking about what time it is and miming signing a cheque when asking for a bill. (I'd never heard of the latter but apparently people do it.) It reminded me of someone pointing out that kids who have never seen a steam train move their arms like the old wheel bars (whatever they're called) when being a train.

 

1 hour ago, Moonsmith said:

“If I’m spared,”

I had an aunt, Hampshire born and bred, who always said that. I say it partly in her memory. I have an Irish colleague who still says it quite a bit and tells me it's distinctively Irish.

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Ellinas
2 hours ago, Stonehugger said:

outdated signs, including looking at one's wrist when talking about what time it is

I believe wristwatches are still reasonably common.

"Touch wood" was often used by my father.  He would only touch his head if there was no wood to hand.  I have no idea of its origin.  I have used it, but rarely

Is the technical equivalent of obsolete gestures the requirement to click, in order to save a document, an image of a floppy disc?

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Stonehugger
12 hours ago, Ellinas said:

I believe wristwatches are still reasonably common

Probably moreso now with smart watches etc. I think the reference was to those strange and alien "young people" who have never worn a watch but use the gesture in any case. I remember with double-decker buses, the two storeys were refereed to as "inside" and "on top", which I always imagined came from the open top buses that come out in the summer in some places. Apparently, though, it's a survivor from the days of trams, but I wonder if it came from stagecoaches before then.

Apologies for the digression ED - this has very little to do with "touch wood". I see pagan references almost everywhere but perhaps not in the way that the parts of buses get named.

  • Haha 1

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Moonsmith

Don’t worry SH I can digress in touch wood too.

i collect touchwood whenever I come across it.  It is a very fine powdery fibre that sometimes results from rotting birch branches.  It even comes wrapped in a waterproof package of thin bark.  It makes the most wonderful tinder for my Kelley Kettle. It will catch fire in a rainstorm.

 Should my very superstitious mother bash her elbow she would always bash the other one.  I have no idea why even in the dubious logic of the superstitiously paranoid.

 Is it my generation that sometimes use an army salute to acknowledge compliance?  I did see a (younger) friend use a glancing American salute as a form of sarcastic dismissal.

i used to use the cheque signing gesture to request a bill.  I’d be very doubtful about a gesture indicating the insertion off a card.

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Moonsmith

Wristwatches?  I still wear mine.  Not sure how smart it is.  It’s polished, does that count?

 

B3BC7EAA-A651-4759-9440-1C0AD6A23A57.jpeg

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Ellinas

My son has one of those, though I've never seen it on his wrist.

Some years ago I went to a Roman military reconstruction (might have been Ermine Street Guard or British Historical Society, as I've seen both).  Someone there had, as part if his kit, a sundial in a form similar to a pocket watch.  It was quite impressive.

Anyhow, that wrist watches are still in common use is witnessed, I think, by the number that are displayed in jewellers' windows.

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