Headbloom Blog

The Difference Between Knocking and Pounding

Last week, I was explaining to a student the meaning of “Knock on wood,” the English expression which follows a statement of hoped-for outcome, for example:

  • The project has continued on schedule all month…knock on wood.

The speaker can rap the knuckles on a table or other hard surface; sometimes, it is enough to merely say the words. The intention of the saying is to avert any bad luck, which some people superstitiously think is induced by the mere mention of a positive outcome. The desire is for the current good luck to continue. A paraphrase would be “I hope so” as in the following sentence.

  • My team should win the game tomorrow, knock on wood.

A well-known song by the same name is covered here by singer Amii Stewart. It includes the words, “I don’t want to lose you…better knock on wood.” This use of the word is metaphorical.

The physical motion of knocking is done by moving the wrist up and down, rapping the knuckles on a hard surface. When we want to get someone’s attention, we knock on their door, on their car window, or (if their music is too loud) on the wall of their adjacent apartment.

On the other hand, if we want to express a stronger feeling, we don’t knock. Rather, we pound. We pound on a door or window or wall if we’re angry. We pound on the desk to express frustration or anger at a meeting. It signifies a strong outburst. Pounding on those surfaces takes more energy because it emanates not from the wrist but from the elbow. A larger motion is required, bringing a more forceful blow to the surface of impact.

image pounding on the door = with side of fist, using elbow action (seeking urgent attention)

pounding on the table = with side of fist, using elbow action (showing anger)

knocking = with knuckles, using wrist action (seeking notice)

pounding a nail with a hammer

To sum up, knocking is a gentle motion to gain polite attention. Pounding is a powerful force intended to cause fear or make someone respond to our impatience or anger.

You should be able to understand the difference between these two verbs after this explanation…knock on wood!

Alan Headbloom