Date: Thu, 5 Sep 1996 13:44:17 -0600


Subject: Re: wing and a prayer

At 10:43 AM 9/5/96 +1608, you wrote:

"live on a

prayer and a wing". now, i've always heard of this as "live on a

wing and a prayer."


anyone know anything about this idiom and its origins? a nice concise

definition would help me too, as i don't know how good my own

estimation is. how is: "to live with little more than hope to

sustain oneself"?

"Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer" was the title of a World War II song,

which I think Bing Crosby sang. That may also have been the title of the

movie in which he sang the song. (I'm going on memory here, and I often

"remember" things that didn't actually happen that way.) Of course the

pilot makes a safe but exciting crash landing on a runway. Your definition

is close to the original application -- if it originated in WW2. It could

be older than WW2, from the old barnstorming days in early aviation.

I think your assessment of the origin of "on a wing and a prayer" is

accurate, but I doubt that it originated before WWII. In WWII, it was not

unusual for a plane, especially a bomber, to return to its airfield with

much of one wing blown off. Photos of planes in this state are truly

amazing. Flak, which consisted mostly of anti-aircraft shells, was often the

cause of this. The shells had proximity fuses and if one exploded very near

a plane, it could easily take off big chunks of a wing. WWI is an unlikely

source; anti-aircraft barrages consisted mostly of small arms fire and while

bullets can put a lot of holes in an aircraft, it is unlikely that they

would take off a wing. Barnstorming seems even less likely a source, since

any more-than-minor accident was usually fatal. WWII yielded aircraft that

looked incapable of flight, so when these things came in, it looked like

they were supported on one side by a wing and on the other by the hopes and

prayers of the crew.