Tag Archives: hand idioms

Bodily expressions VI: Arms & hands, fingers & thumbs

From Wellcome Images (Wikimedia Commons)

From Wellcome Images (Wikimedia Commons)

Continuing Glossophilia’s 10-part series on bodily expressions.

We’ve gathered all the phrases and expressions we can possibly think of that make use of bodily parts in all their glory — and divided them into ten broad categories* descending from head to toe (and then some …). We’ve left out one- and two-word euphemistic adjectives and tried to avoid expressions that refer too literally to our actual limbs, organs or orifices; what follows are phrases that tend towards the metaphorical and poetic, even though some can also be taken more literally.

Here we have phrases using arms, elbows and hands, fingers and thumbs — those essential and practical agents of our daily lives. Up next: bellies and bottoms, hips, loins and backs.


1. As long as my arm

2. A shot in the arm

3. To cost an arm and a leg

4. I would give my right arm

5. The long arm of the law

6. To twist my arm

7. To keep at arm’s length

8. To put the arm on someone

9. Can do it with one arm tied behind my back

10. To receive/greet with open arms


1. Give it some elbow grease

2. Have some elbow room

3. To give someone or to get the elbow

4. At someone’s elbow

5. To elbow one’s way to the top

6. Can’t tell your arse from your elbow

7. To bend/lift one’s elbow

8. To be out at the elbows

9. To rub elbows with someone


1. To lend a (helping) hand

2. To be an old hand

3. To be a dab hand

4. To win hands-down

5. To have a free hand

6. To be hand in glove

7. To have/take/gain the upper hand

8. To get out of hand

9. To take in hand

10. To take matters into one’s hands

11. To overplay one’s hand

12. On the other hand

13. To bite the hand that feeds you

14. To force someone’s hand

15. An iron fist/hand in a velvet glove

16. Take the law into your hands

17. To live hand to mouth

18. Caught red-handed

19. Keep your hands clean/get your hands dirty

20. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing

21. To have someone in the palm of your hand

22. To have someone eating out of your hand

23. To have a hand in something

24. Hand over fist

25. To wash one’s hands of

26. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

27. With one’s bare hands

28. Can count on the fingers of one hand

29. Need an extra pair of hands

30. To have time on one’s hands

31. His life is in your hands

32. Putty in someone’s hands

33. To show one’s hand

34, To have your hands full

35. To play into his hands

36. My hands are tied

37. To have blood on one’s hands

38. To rule with an iron hand/fist

39. To be in safe hands

40. By his own hand

41. To come cap in hand

42. Many hands make light work

43. To fall into the wrong hands

44. To wait on someone hand and foot

45. To lay one’s hands on something or someone

46. To go hand in hand with something/someone

47. To keep one’s hand in

[48. To grease someone’s palm]


1. Keep my fingers crossed

2. To not lift a finger

3. To have a finger in every pie

4. To pull your finger out

5. To put your finger on something

6. To finger someone

7. To point your finger at someone

8. Have your finger on the pulse of something

9. Work one’s fingers to the bone

10. Butter fingers

11. To get your fingers burned

12. To hang on by your fingernails


1. To be near the knuckle

2. To rap his knuckles

3. A knuckle sandwich

4. A white knuckle ride


1. I’m all fingers and thumbs

2. Rule of thumb

3. To have a green thumb

4. To give the thumbs up

5. To twiddle my thumbs


* Categories:

I: Hair, heads & brains
II: Eyes & ears
III: Faces, noses & mouths, teeth, cheeks & chins
IV: Necks, throats & shoulders
V: Chests, breasts & hearts
VI: Arms & hands, fingers & thumbs
VII: Bellies & bottoms, hips, loins & backs
VIII: Legs, feet, toes & heels
IX: Blood, sweat & tears, skin & bones, nerves, muscles
X: Bodies & skeletons