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What Does It Mean to Be a "Good Hand"?

By Cynde Gregory
Updated May 23, 2024
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Many native English speakers don’t realize it, but the language overflows with idioms that aren’t always clear to those who haven’t grown up with them. Even native speakers will come across idioms that leave them thinking, "What," because they contain references to a historical time period or object that is no longer well known. One example refers to someone as a "good hand," which doesn’t mean this person is excellent at applauding others or expecting freebies but that he or she is a good worker.

There are literally thousands of idioms in all languages that refer to parts of the human body. For example, English speakers mourn when someone leaves them heartbroken but are back in action when they meet someone else who leaves them tongue-tied or with butterflies in their stomachs. An arrogant soul has his or her nose in the air, and a judgmental one looks down his or her nose at others. When the boss assigns work no one wants to do, they drag their feet until he or she forces them to toe the line.

Needless to say, hands figure large in the idioms of most languages. They are one of the most constantly used parts of the body after all. Hands cuddle babies, lug groceries, and point accusatory fingers at wrongdoers. They are used in everything from fistfights to grabbing criminals.

Once upon a time not that long ago, farmers had hired hands. More often than not, the hands, as they were commonly referred to, were given cabins or even farmhouses to live in, either with other hands or with their families, depending upon how well-off the farmer was and how badly this particular hand was needed. Such a person might possess special skills or might work very hard indeed.

To complicate things, a good hand is not only something an individual can be, but it is sometimes used as something an individual has. Someone who has been dealt a good hand has had luck on his or her side. This idiom refers to a hand of poker or another card game that, by extension, becomes a metaphor for life. Someone who has been blessed with a good hand might have been born into a wealthy family, been very well educated or well connected, or fallen into a good situation at just the right time. Such a person is unlikely to wear hand-me-downs and has no need to ask for a handout!

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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