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According to Project Britain's British Life and Culture it is lucky to touch wood:

Lucky to touch wood. We touch; knock on wood, to make something come true.

Where does this superstition come from?

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    I know for a fact there is a sailors superstition that has to do with checking the quality of the wood, I will check this out when I get home today – Tom May 15 at 13:00
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    Seaman/sailors in the 17th century would sometimes knock with their hands or tools on the wooden hull of their ship to listen for woodworm or rot, hearing a solid sound coming from wood in the hull would mean it was good to go(or ship shape) – Tom May 15 at 18:13
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    I also found the claim (without a source) that miners would knock on the wood of the mine's stakes to check their quality. – Arsak May 16 at 16:11
  • @Arsak I have also heard about this, is it possible for you to find any sources and make it into an answer? – Tom May 29 at 10:39
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To make sure your vessel is seaworthy.

Seamen/sailors in the 17th century would sometimes knock with their hands or tools on the wooden hull of their ship to listen for woodworm or rot, hearing a solid sound coming from wood in the hull would mean it was good to go(or ship shape)

For continuing your good luck streak

When sailors were having a conversation and they would talk about good luck the sailors would sometimes say to one another that they needed to touch wood. (implying the ship ofcourse) This good luck could also be referring to the fact they made the journey this far on good terms and where hoping that their ship would finish its voyage fast and that their ship's hull would stay whole and strong.

In my own culture

In my country (the Netherlands) this superstition is also deeply embedded into our culture and we call it "afkloppen".

Afkloppen of aftikken is een vorm van volksgeloof en een ritueel waarbij oorspronkelijk op ongeverfd hout wordt getikt, om daardoor mogelijk ongeluk af te wenden, wanneer men zich verheugt over genoten geluk of wanneer iets geprezen wordt. dutch wiki on "afkloppen"'Afkloppen, aftikken', in: Folkloristisch Woordenboek van Nederland en Vlaams België/ K. ter Laan, 1949, pp. 7.

Translated this loosely means :

Afkloppen or aftikken is a form of folklore and a ritual which originally meant that you needed to knock or tap on a piece of unpainted wood to ward off bad luck, especially when you already had a string of good luck and would like that good luck to continue. dutch wiki on "afkloppen"'Afkloppen, aftikken', in: Folkloristisch Woordenboek van Nederland en Vlaams België/ K. ter Laan, 1949, pp. 7.

Tempting fate

At first i thought this was mostly because my country has a deep naval tradition (along with some reasonable amount of European countries) spanning back some centuries. Looking further I found that most countries in Europe (and after looking at Wikipedia countries all over the world) have some sort of superstition/ritual implying that the knocking on or touching of wood seems to be a way of bringing good luck or to not "tempt fate"(jinx).

Wikipedia says that its rooted in German folklore but they are missing the citations needed to further investigate this claim. There is probably someone on this site that might be able to answer this. If anyone has some sources I would be happy to investigate this further

  • There are (at least) two books on this topic. The origin is unclear. Summary of these theories. – Denis de Bernardy May 17 at 16:07
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    Thank you, this is a very interesting answer. – Bloom May 29 at 9:28
  • @Bloom no problem! I will expand this answer if I come across any more connections. – Tom May 29 at 10:42
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My anthropology professor linked it back to the belief that there were spirits, of whatever kind, living in trees and wood, and in order to keep them from hearing what you were saying and spoiling things when they were going well, you should knock on wood as you were speaking.

  • Hi again @fifthviolet, here you bring something of your own that is not yet in another answer: the fact that people want to "hide their conversation behing that knocking sound", this is exactly what we look for here! If you have a link to your professor's work on that subject or the origins to that explanation, that would be perfect! (you can start with a link to your cultures spirits being in the wood for example). Have my upvote! – Calaom Jun 26 at 7:48

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