Alternative Meanings for “Hand” and Names of Its Parts
The human hand is such a quintessential element of our anatomy — we wouldn’t be human without ours (specifically, without our prehensile thumbs) — that we have applied the word to many literal and figurative senses other than the physiological one, as well as a wealth of idiomatic phrases (too many to list here). Here’s a discussion of alternative meanings of hand, as well as those for its parts.
Hand can refer to participation or an offer of assistance, or it denotes a round of applause. It applies to a body part or a component of an object resembling a hand, and a symbol resembling a hand with an outstretched index finger is called a hand, or an index.
An aspect, direction, or side is called a hand; on the other hand, the word also refers to the concept of control, possession, or supervision. One can give one’s hand as a pledge (usually, in reference to marriage), and one’s signature or handwriting is called one’s hand. The word denotes ability or skill, or interest or participation or a significant role.
In card or other games, hand refers to the cards or game pieces held, to a round in a game, or to a player in a game; by figurative extension, it means “the strength of one’s position.” In the realm of a rougher game, pugilistics (boxing), or in fighting in general, hand identifies a punch.
The creator or producer of a work might be acknowledged as a hand; it could also reference someone with knowledge of or skill in a specific topic, or handiwork or workmanship. The word also applies, more mundanely, to an employee or worker, especially a laborer, or a member of a ship’s crew (or the figurative equivalent). In a sense more akin to tactile connotations, hand describes the feel of a material.
Finger, too, has other meanings, including something resembling a finger in shape or function, or a measurement equivalent to the general width of a finger. As a verb, it means to identify or to touch, to extend as a finger would be extended, or to play music using one’s fingers. Likewise, thumb applies to something with a thumblike appearance, and, as a verb, it means “to leaf through a book or to cause wear by doing so,” or “to hitchhike or to signal for a ride by holding out one’s thumb.”
A knuckle, too, is something that looks like a joint in a bodily appendage (or, in the case of a cut of meat, is that anatomical part from livestock), including a weapon worn on the knuckles and more commonly called brass knuckles. Knuckle can also refer to a part of a hinge or to a structural component with the appearance of a knuckle. To knuckle is to press or rub with one’s knuckles.
Palm extends to objects that might remind one of that part of the hand; the palm tree derives its name from resemblance of the fan-shaped leaves to a hand. A palm is also the act of palming; to palm is to conceal with one’s hand or to stealthily give or take something, or, by extension, to commit fraud. It also means to touch with one’s palm, as in the basketball violation of resting a ball in one’s hand during dribbling.
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