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Hands: She is Making Money Hand-Over-Fist

English expressions that come from the hands. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Now, the VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.


The hand has been a symbol through the ages and in many cultures.

There are hundreds of expressions and combinations of words using hand in the English language. Let us examine some of the expressions that use hand.

We will get a hand in this way. To get a hand in is to begin a job, to begin to know something about it. When we learn the job completely, it will be easy for us. We will be able to do it hands down.

If we do the job well, we may end up with the upper hand. And that means to be in control, or to have gained complete understanding of a situation.

On the other hand, if the situation gets out of hand, then it is out of control. We must act quickly to regain the upper hand over these expressions.

But, wait. We still do not have the upper hand in this business.

We must consider another way of expressing praise, to hand it to someone. For example: I must hand it to you for understanding what we have discussed this far.

You can also lend a hand to someone, but without really giving up your hand. You lend a hand when you help someone. You offer them a helping hand.

If someone is kind enough to lend us a hand, then we surely do not want to bite the hand that feeds us. We do not want to repay his kindness by treating him badly.

Now, with that out of the way, we have a free hand to continue examining other hand expressions. To have a free hand in a situation is good. It means you are free to act without getting permission from someone else.

If we continue moving along, we will make progress hand over fist, or very rapidly. This expression began in the early seventeen hundreds. It reportedly comes from a sailing expression hand over hand, the way of quickly raising or lowering a sail.

Maybe you can find a friend who wants to take a hand in our project. It would have to be someone who is interested in these expressions.

Your friend may want to work hand in glove with us. That is good, because that means he wants to work as closely with us as a glove covers the hand. Of course there is a danger that he may look at our project and decide to take it in hand. That means he wants to take it over.

If that happens, we may throw up our hands because the situation seems hopeless. In fact, we may decide that it is time for us to end this project, to wash our hands of hand expressions.


This VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES, was written by Marilyn Rice Christiano. Maurice Joyce was the narrator. I'm Shirley Griffith.