On a Wing and Prayer – Idiom, Meaning & Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

The English language is chocked full of phrases that often tell stories that go beyond their literal interpretations, like the phrase on a wing and a prayer. It feels like it carries a sense of resilience, doesn’t it? There’s a bit to unpack with this expression, so let’s take a second to look at its meaning and where it came from.

Cracking the Code of “On a Wing and a Prayer”

On a Wing and Prayer Idiom Meaning Origin

When someone is on a wing and a prayer, they aren’t literally soaring through the sky hoping for divine intervention. Metaphorically, the phrase is meant to represent that they’re pushing through a super challenging situation or relying heavily on hope and faith rather than a solid plan or a safety net.

It’s kind of like when I published my first book. I had no earthly idea what I was doing. The indie publishing world was like the pool’s deep end, and I was a horrible swimmer. So, I proceeded with my plans, but on a wing and a prayer.

The Origin Behind “On a Wing and a Prayer”

Believe it or not, this phrase was born out of the turbulent times of World War II. In 1942, there was a film called “The Flying Tigers,” and John Wayne’s character says, “Any word on that flight yet?” And a hotel clerk replies, “Yes sir, it was attacked and fired on by Japanese aircraft. She’s coming in on one wing and a prayer.”

It was also used in a 1943 song by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh, inspired by a real event. A damaged plane managed to return home safely, and the phrase perfectly captured the mixture of luck, faith and resilience that allowed such a miracle.

Synonyms for On a Wing and a Prayer

Spice up your verbal arsenal with synonyms for this phrase and break up any repetitiveness in your writing.

Using “On a Wing and a Prayer” in Sentences

On a Wing and Prayer Idiom Meaning Origin 1

Now that we’ve covered the what and why, let’s jump into the how. Here are some instances of on a wing and a prayer in full sentences to give you some deeper context.

  • Despite countless obstacles, the tiny start-up endeavor stayed afloat on a wing and a prayer.
  • Brie finished the marathon on a wing and a prayer, despite running out of water and twisting her ankle midway.
  • With half the team down with flu, we completed the publishing project on a wing and a prayer.

Until We Meet Again, Possibly on a Wing and a Prayer

And that’s a wrap on my deep dive into the phrase on a wing and a prayer. It’s meant to encapsulate the spirit of hope and perseverance that life often demands from us. So, don’t shy away from using it. And be sure to take a moment and peruse my other grammar guides!