What Does On a Wing and a Prayer Mean?

On a Wing and a Payer Meaning

Definition: Relying solely on luck to get out of a difficult situation.

Origin of On a Wing and a Prayer

This expression originated during World War II. It appeared in a film called The Flying Tigers in the year 1942. One of the pilots in the military had lost one wing of his plane, so he was trying to land using only one wing and a prayer.

This same expression appeared in a patriotic song showing how determined soldiers were—even when the possibility of success seemed low.

Examples of On a Wing and a Prayer

coming in on a wing and a prayerThe first dialogue shows a brother and sister discussing a car that the brother is building.

Luke: Ella, can you hand me that rag over there?

Ella: Sure. What are you trying to do to that car?

Luke: I’m trying to fix it.

Ella: Really? That car hasn’t worked in over twenty years. I’d be surprised if you could even get it to start.

Luke: Yeah, I know that if I get it running at all, it will only be running on a wing and a prayer, but still, I want to try.

wing and a prayer movieThe second example shows two friends at the end of their hunting trip.

Ray: I can’t believe we didn’t successfully get any animals at all.

Ricardo: I know. And we used up all our bullets too.

Ray: Well, almost all. I have one left.

Ricardo: Really? I wasn’t going to tell you this, but there’s a deer way over there. Do you want to try to hit it with your last bullet?

Ray: Well, it’s really far away. I’ve never made a shot from this far. And it’s really windy, and the deer might hear us at any point and run away. But oh well, let’s try it! I’m going to attempt this on a wing and a prayer.

More Examples

This article excerpt is about a pigeon with a cell phone attached to his back. Someone wanted to use this pigeon to smuggle the cell phone into a prison.

  • The high-tech carrier pigeon flew to the Combita prison in Colombia on a wing and a prayer and was caught outside with the device attached to its back. –New York Daily News

This example is about a woman helping children in need.

  • Eventually, Montanti brought Kenan to live with her, putting him through college “on a wing and a prayer.” He now works in IT at Credit Suisse. –New York Daily News


The expression On a wing and a prayer is a saying that people add when they want to emphasize how little chance of success something has, and that the person is relying and luck to be successful.