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Hand Idioms in English


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There are lots of idioms in the English language using "hand" and "hands."  Our hands are expressive both literally and figuratively where language is concerned!

Here are a few for starters.

"To know like the back of your hand" -- to be very familiar with something.

"To live hand to mouth" -- a very meager existence, just barely getting by.

"Hands down" -- obvious and without question, as in "He is the hands-down winner when it comes to knowing about English literature."

"To take matters into your own hands"  -- to take charge of circumstances or a situation rather than relying on others.

Please add to the list.  :) 

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Some more:

Change hands - be given to someone else be it via a formal of transaction or otherwise.

Catch someone red-handed - to catch someone [by chance] doing something wrong.

. . .empty-handed - without anything.

Firsthand - experience something yourself.

Hand in hand - hold hands.

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'Right-hand man' - second-in-command, most trusted friend

'To bite the hand that feeds you' - to harm someone who does good things for you

'To gain the upper hand' - to gain the superior/most advantageous position

There are also lots of idioms to do with fingers, arms, legs... more or less every body part there is!

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  • 2 weeks later...

:smile: Let's see...

  • All hands on deck - when you want a full cooperation/attendance/participation of everyone.
  • You're in good hands - when you want to assure someone that they're safe.
  • To lend a hand - to help someone.

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  • 2 months later...

Just a few that has come to mind.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bushes.

Hands are tied.

Left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.

Have a hand in something

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"Well, give the man a hand!"  This is giving a round of applause to the person by clapping as a form of appreciation for his excellent performance. 

In a slightly off-topic sense, I first heard about this line in the original RoboCop film where Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) tortured Murphy (Peter Weller) by shooting his right hand and horribly wounding him.

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Here's a few more that I came across while surfing the net.  :smile:

1. Hand it to you - To acknowledge someone's skills or expertise.  Ex. I got to hand it to you, you really know how to bake delicious cakes.

2. To hand something on a platter - To make it easy for somebody. 


3. To take the law into your own hands - To seek justice without the help of the proper authorities.


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To rule with an iron fist -  to have strict and complete control over a person or a group of people

Slap on the wrist - A light punishment

Wash one's hand - to stop one's involvement in something so that one would not have to take responsibility

This one is pretty interesting:

To force someone’s hand - to maneuver so that someone is compelled to act prematurely or reveal his or her intentions.

And one of my favorite although it might not have much to do with hands:

To Throw Down the Gauntlet, which means to challenge.

The term derives from the time of medieval knights when a knight would offer a challenge by throwing down his gauntlet (a metal glove which formed part of his suit of armour). The other knight accepted the challenge by picking up the gauntlet.

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  • 2 months later...

Heavy handed - Very harsh, or strict. "That judge is known for his heavy-handed rulings."

Ham fisted - Having very large hands. I first came across this one while reading Piers Anthony novels in High School.

A show of hands - Raising the hand in agreement. "Can we see, by a show of hands, who the winner is?"

  And those are my offerings.  :wacky:

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  • 3 weeks later...

That is interesting, I can think of three right now

All thumbs - to describe someone who is always clumsy

Backhanded compliment - which is a negative compliment or an insult

And something I often heard as a kid

The devil makes work for idle hands - if you aren't busy, then you're up to no good

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Hand something over - to give something to someone    "Hey, that's my book, hand it over!"

Can't see hand in front of face - unable to see very far, usually due to darkness  "It was so dark that I couldn't see my hand in front of my face"

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  • 1 year later...

There's also "one hand washes the other" which is about doing a favor for someone while they do a favor for you.  "To have (blank) at hand" is to have it ready or nearby.  A "backhanded compliment" is an insult disguised as a compliment. EX:  You'd be so pretty if you lost all that weight.   "Wouldn't lift a finger" means to do nothing.  EX:  If she were in trouble, I wouldn't lift a finger to help her.  Mostly about someone you really don't like. 

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