Touch and Go

Meanings of “Touch and Go”

The phrase “touch and go” means a risky or precarious situation. It especially refers to a delicate happening, or circumstance where the slightest change can bring disastrous conclusions such as death.

Origin of “Touch and Go”

The phrase “touch and go” is said to have its first citation in Seven Sermons. These sermons were published in 1869. The use of this phrase is stated as; “As the text doth ryfe, I wyl touch and go a lyttle in every place, vntyl I come into much. I wyl touch al the forfyed things, but not to muche.” Later, the popular soldier and writer, Admiral W. H. Smyth used it in his Word-Book written for sailors and published in 1867. Since then, this unusual expression is used in various books, films, lyrics, and poems conveying several different meanings.

Examples from Literature

Example #1

Touch-And-Go by Sylvia Plath

“Sing praise for statuary:
For those anchored attitudes
And staunch stone eyes that stare
Through lichen-lid and passing bird-foot
At some steadfast mark
Beyond the inconstant green
Gallop and flick of light
In this precarious park

Where vivid children twirl
Like colored tops through time
Nor stop to understand
How all their play is touch-and-go:
But, Go! they cry, and the swing
Arcs up to the tall tree tip;
Go! and the merry-go-round
Hauls them round with it.”

These two stanzas express the speaker’s feelings for the statue she comes across in a precarious park. In the first stanza, she presents her closer observation related to the piece of art, staring at her with its stone eyes. Although birds have made marks on its surface, it continues to serve its purpose despite these changes. In the second stanza, the speaker reflects on the carefree childhood. The carefree children keep on twirling around the statue; their innocent eyes fail to understand the fragile nature of time. She says that their play is touch and go, but they enjoy the present moments of their life and pay less attention to the situations that seem dangerous to us. The phrase shows its ironic use of words.

Example #2

Touch and Go by Stevie Smith

“No, there is no one to help him
Let him get on with it
Cry the ancient enemies of man
As they cough and spit.

The enemies of man are like trees
They stand with the sun in their branches
Is there no one to help my creature?
Where he languishes?

Ah, the delicate creature
He lies with his head in the rubble
Pray that the moment pass
And the trouble.

Look he moves, that is more than a prayer,
But he is so slow
Will he come out of the mountains?
It is touch and go.”

In these stanzas, the speaker narrates how man tries to liberate himself from the clutches of an unfulfilling life. This unfulfilling life is compared with a mountain in the poem – a mountain that is the barrier man himself created. Now, despite the hard struggle, he seems unable to cross the limits he has set for himself. The poet also says that these limits are the man’s enemies that never allow him to understand life’s purpose. He seems sympathetic toward the man who cannot free himself from the old ways of living and get into another. He concludes this piece with a sensitive question about man’s chance of coming out of this dilemma. However, the answer to the issue shows that it is hard because it is uncertain for a man to bring change to life. The phrase has been used in its literal sense.

Example #3

Touch & Go by Mira Lyn Kelly

The book narrates the story of two lovers, Ava Meyers and Sam. Eva’s life is filled with joys but deep inside, her secret love for her best friend Sam makes her realize that she lacks something in life. On the other hand, Sam also possesses the same feelings, but the traumas of his life never allow him to listen to his heart. Finally, after realizing the biggest truth, their heartfelt confession melts many hearts. Therefore, the novel seems to be an extended metaphor of this phrase with a touch of humor and irony.

Example #4

Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner

This thumping thriller, featuring  Tessa Leoni, who is called after the Denbe family is abducted. Upon reaching the sight, she gets surprised to see no clue of the heinous crime as if the family has vanished into thin air. The abducted couple was on the date that night when this incident happened. The writer provides the readers with a chance to look at both perspectives; the family’s view and the detectives. Therefore, the story revolves around the darkest secrets, and the writer succumbs to the fact that family, safety, and love, it’s all touch and goes. Therefore, this phrase has been presented as a metaphorical extension through this story.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “The surgeon said that it is touch and go situation for John and no one knew if he will get back to life.”

Example #2: “After the fatal accident, Amy’s condition was touch and go, but the ’ ’doctor’s positive gesture comforted the family.”

Example #3: “The situation was a touch and go, it made everyone think that the new basketball team might lose the match entirely.”

Example #4: “The touch and go play of the ringmaster was breath-taking; we seriously broke out in goose-bumps.” 

Example #5: “Their marriage was on the verge of touch and go. Everyone was sure that they were going to get divorced in no time.”