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January 30, 2003 - Slangman: Hand-Related Terms - 2003-01-29

Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": January 30, 2003

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- Slangman David Burke is on hand in Los Angeles to give us a hand with some handy slang. Get the idea of this week's topic? Well, you've got to hand it to that Slangman, always careful about his health. Just listen to his New Year's resolution:

SLANGMAN: "Dear diary: on one hand, I want to make the resolution to stop eating junk food. But on the other hand I love it so much! Now this expression is actually a two-part expression: 'on one hand' and then 'on the other hand.' You can't say one without the other. So when you say 'on one hand' it means first I need to consider the positive reasons. Then when you say 'on the other hand,' it means next I need to consider the negative reasons.

So on one hand I want to make the resolution to stop eating junk food -- which is food that's not good for you -- but on the other hand I love it so much, and chocolate is my favorite food group ... hands down. (laughter)"

RS: "That makes it difficult."

SLANGMAN: "Yes it does, because 'hands down' means 100 percent. OK, I'll try my hand at eating only healthy foods. Now when you 'try your hand' at something, it simply means to try something that's usually physical, where you would need your hands, but it could also be at something non-physical. So I'll try my hand at eating only healthy food. I'll make sure not to have any candy -- especially chocolate -- on hand."

RS: "Oh, chocolate on hand."

AA: "Not literally."

SLANGMAN: "Not literally on your hand but 'on hand' simply means available. So I'll make sure not to have any candy, especially chocolate -- my favorite -- on hand, so I can avoid it. I know myself like the back of my hand; if it's in my house, I'll eat it. This has got to be one of the strangest expressions."

RS: "It certainly is."

SLANGMAN: "I always thought this even when I was a kid. To know something like the back of one's hand, it just means to know something very well. But how many of us really know the back of our hands."

RS: "Or the front of our hands, for that matter."

SLANGMAN: "I can't even describe the back of my hand to you. But even so we still say that. So I 'know myself like the back of my hand,' however well that is, who knows, but it's a common expression. Well, actually I do remember reading a handout that says that chocolate has certain properties that can actually prevent tooth decay. Now a 'handout' is anything that is written that has helpful information that you hand out, or give, to someone. It also means a donation of money, in fact, that you would give to a poor person. 'I'm going to give that person a handout.'"

AA: "Now is it true that it can prevent tooth decay, or is it just good for you in other ways?"

SLANGMAN: "No, my dentist actually told me that chocolate can prevent tooth decay. And I even heard on the news about two months ago, they said it can even reduce your risk of getting cancer. How about that? Well so, on one hand it may actually be very handy to have chocolate on hand. When something is very 'handy,' it means it's very convenient. So on one hand, which we already learned, it may actually be very handy -- convenient -- to have chocolate on hand. On the other hand, my teeth would be fabulous but I would be too fat to move."

RS: "That would be a problem."

SLANGMAN: "That could be a problem. Then people would probably want to 'lend me a hand' and 'wait on me hand-and-foot,' which is another strange expression. It means to act like my servant and bring me anything I need. Well, I would have people 'eating out of my hand.' And that means people doing anything I want."

RS: "Not necessarily eat out of your hand."

AA: "No."

SLANGMAN: "Oh wait, that's just too 'underhanded.' This is an interesting expression. That means dishonest, it's like stealing something while covering what you're stealing with your hand. And now that I'm done reading my New Year's resolution, you're welcome to give me a hand. (clapping) Thank you. This is another interesting expression, because depending on the context it means two different things. If you give someone a hand, it can either mean you're applauding for them or it means you're helping them.

So, oftentimes we see on TV shows when a host is introducing an actor, an actress, a famous person, they'll say 'OK let's give these people a hand,' let's applaud them. But if the context is different, and these two people are having trouble doing something, and then we hear 'let's give them a hand,' it means let's help them. So it all depends on the context."

AA: Slangman David Burke in Los Angeles. Can't wait to get your hands on books and other materials to learn slang? Then visit David's Web site -- Our address is And our e-mail is With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Keep Your Hands to Yourself"/The Calling