What does it mean when someone says they have their ‘fingers crossed'’’? Where did this idiom come from?
‘Fingers crossed’ is an expression that communicates that a person is wishing for something, hopeful or expectant. You might say ‘fingers crossed’ when you are wishing for something, or you might say ‘fingers crossed’ to show your support when someone else expresses that they are hoping for something.
‘Fingers crossed’ is an expression that is used to convey that a person is hoping and expectant. It refers to a hand gesture that is often used to express a wish for good luck.
In some circumstances, the act of crossing one’s fingers can also be interpreted as trying to implore God for protection.
There are a number of expressions in addition to ‘fingers crossed’ that refer to this gesture, including:
There is also a cultural notion that crossing one’s fingers will invalidate a promise that someone is making to another person. Similarly, children will often consider crossing their fingers as a way to get away with telling a white lie.
‘Fingers crossed,’ however, implies the first meaning of ‘wishing for luck’ rather than referring to crossing one’s fingers as a gesture of lying.
For example, let’s say that you are waiting to receive college acceptance letters in the mail. There is one school that is your first choice, and you are eagerly waiting to hear back from them. When you’re talking to your friend’s parents about it, you might say something like, “I haven’t heard anything yet, but I’m keeping my ‘fingers crossed’!”
If you sent your brother a package and you’re worried that it won’t make it there in time for his birthday, you might say, “‘fingers crossed’ it arrived on time!”
The phrase can also be used on its own as an expression. For instance, let’s say that you applied for a job that you are really hoping to get. You might say, “They said they would give me a call back next week. ‘Fingers crossed’!”
There are actually two primary theories about where the association between crossing one’s fingers and good luck comes from.
The first theory is that crossing one’s fingers is an act that originated in Western Europe before the time of Christianity. During this time, there was a pagan belief that perfect unity was symbolized by the cross. It was thought that the intersection point of the cross was a spot where good spirits concentrated and would therefore serve as an anchor for a wish until the wish finally came true.
According to this explanation, the earliest uses of this gesture occurred in pre-Christian Europe in the form of a person using their index finger to create a cross over another person’s index finger. This served as an indication that they showed support for their wish.
This two-person act then morphed into people crossing the index fingers on each of their hands in order to form a cross on their own. Eventually, it became the act we know today that only requires one hand, where the second and third fingers are crossed.
The other theory states that crossing one’s fingers dates back to the earliest days of Christianity. During this time, Christians were persecuted due to their religious beliefs. There were a series of hand gestures developed by people in order to recognize fellow Christians, including touching thumbs and crossing index fingers to form a fish symbol.
This alternate theory puts forward the notion that the solo finger cross first emerged when soldiers wished for God’s favor during the bloody Hundred Years War.
While it might not be completely certain whether ‘fingers crossed’ originated before Christianity or after its emergence, it is now a well-known expression and gesture that communicates that a person is hopeful or expectant of something.
A very interesting graph emerges when we look at the Google Books Ngram Viewer for ‘fingers crossed,’ ‘keep your fingers crossed,’ and ‘cross your fingers.’
While the latter two phrases have a fairly steadily increasing usage pattern, ‘fingers crossed’ increased quite a bit between 1900 and the early 1940s, particularly accelerating in the late 1920s and 1930s. After reaching a peak in the early 1940s, usage declined until about the 1980s, when it started increasing once again.
How would you use the phrase ‘fingers crossed’ in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:
Are you ready to learn more English phrases and idioms? If so, make sure you check out the rest of our idioms blog!