Who knew how many idioms and phrases there were containing the word ‘hand’! I certainly didn’t until I started researching them. A lot are common in everyday speech and are therefore useful to learn. As there are so many, this will be the first of two posts, Part 1 and Part 2.
As you might imagine, ‘hand’ features in idioms that convey something about control and power. For example, if a situation gets out of hand, people lose control of it: Things got a bit out of hand at the party and a window was broken.
If someone says that their hands are tied, they mean that they, personally, don’t have the power to do something, usually because the rules don’t allow it: If I could allow her more time off, I would, but my hands are tied.
In UK English, if you take in hand someone who is behaving badly, you deal with them so that their behaviour improves: Their younger son is out of control – they really need to take him in hand.
A performer who has an audience in the palm of their hand, holds their attention completely because of the power of their performance: I’ve never known a performance like it. She had the audience in the palm of her hand. (The ‘palm’ is the inside part of the hand, where you hold something.)
A similar image is found in the expression to have someone eating out of your hand, meaning ‘to have them under your control, admiring you greatly’: She’s one of those teachers who has the whole class eating out of her hand.
Other ‘hand’ expressions relate to things being near or available, either literally or more figuratively. We say help is at hand, meaning that help is available if needed: Just remember that if you are struggling at all, help is at hand.
People who are on hand are present and ready to help if necessary: Our fantastic staff will be on hand to answer any queries you may have. In UK English, if you have an object to hand, you have it near you: I didn’t have a pen to hand so I couldn’t write down the number.
To lay/get your hands on something is to manage to find it: Where have all the scissors gone? I can never lay my hands on a pair when I need them!
The job/matter in hand (UK)/the job/matter at hand (US) is the task or job that you are doing or talking about at the time: Anyway, we’ll deal with that later. For now, shall we concentrate on the job in hand?
I’ll leave you with a ‘hand’ idiom which I feel sure must exist in other languages. If you know a place like the back of your hand, you have a very good and detailed knowledge of it: I’ve lived in this neighbourhood for fifty years. I know it like the back of my hand.