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Related to handed: handed off, handed out, handed over, Left handed
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hand (something) to (someone) on a plate

To give or relinquish something to someone very easily, without him or her having to work very hard to get or achieve it. The team's defense has been atrocious today, handing a victory to their opponents on a plate. If we can get the government to subsidize our project, we'll have our yearly earnings handed to us on a plate.
See also: hand, plate


Haughtily presumptuous; arrogantly or inconsiderately overbearing. The new boss is unbearably high-handed in dealing with employees. We've had just about enough of these high-handed displays of police brutality.

back-handed compliment

An insulting or negative comment disguised as praise. She said my new pants really make my legs look much slimmer. What a back-handed compliment!
See also: compliment

backhanded compliment

 and left-handed compliment
an unintended or ambiguous compliment. Backhanded compliments are the only kind he ever gives! And I think his left-handed compliments are all given by accident, too!

catch someone red-handed

 and catch someone flat-footed
to catch a person in the act of doing something wrong. (See also caught red-handed.) Tom was stealing the car when the police drove by and caught him red-handed. Mary tried to cash a forged check at the bank, and the teller caught her red-handed.
See also: catch

caught in the act

 and caught red-handed
Fig. seen doing something illegal or private. (See also catch someone in the act (of doing something) and catch someone red-handed.) Tom was caught in the act and cannot deny what he did. Many car thieves are caught red-handed.
See also: act, caught

come away empty-handed

to return without anything. All right, go gambling. Don't come away empty-handed, though. Go to the bank and ask for the loan again. This time don't come away empty-handed.
See also: away, come

go away empty-handed

Fig. to depart with nothing. I hate for you to go away empty-handed, but I cannot afford to contribute any money. They came hoping for some food, but they had to go away empty-handed.
See also: away

pay someone a backhanded compliment

 and pay someone a left-handed compliment
Fig. to give someone a false compliment that is really an insult or criticism. John said that he had never seen me looking better. I think he was paying me a left-handed compliment. I'd prefer that someone insulted me directly. I hate it when someone pays me a backhanded compliment—unless it's a joke.


1. (British & Australian informal) lacking skill with your hands Rob made a cack-handed attempt to fix the door and now it won't close at all. She doesn't strike me as the practical sort - she's a bit cack-handed.
2. (British & Australian informal) lacking skill in the way that you deal with people What struck me was the cack-handed way that he dealt with the whole situation.

catch somebody red-handed

to discover someone doing something illegal or wrong (often + doing sth) I caught him red-handed trying to break into my car.
See also: catch

a back-handed compliment

  (British, American & Australian) also a left-handed compliment (American)
a remark which seems approving but which is also negative He gave me that classic back-handed compliment. He said I played football very well 'for a woman'.
See return the compliment
See also: compliment


  (British) also ham-handed (American)
1. lacking skill with the hands I hoped you weren't watching my ham-fisted attempts to get the cake out of the tin.
2. lacking skill in the way that you deal with people The report criticizes the ham-fisted way in which complaints are dealt with.


1. if you try to control someone or something in a heavy-handed way, you use more force than is necessary or suitable His heavy-handed style of management is extremely unpopular.
2. if an attempt to tell or teach someone something is heavy-handed, it is too obvious The theme of drug abuse is treated in a way that is convincing without being heavy-handed.

back of one's hand

Rejection or contempt, as in Unimpressed with him, she gave the back of her hand to his suggestion. This phrase is usually the object of a verb such as give or show. [Second half of 1700s] Back of the hand similarly means "an insult" in the term back-handed compliment (see under left-handed compliment) but has a quite different meaning in know like the back of one's hand (see under know like a book).
See also: back, hand, of

catch red-handed

Also, catch in the act. Apprehend someone in the course of wrongdoing, as in The boys were trying to steal a car and the police caught them red-handed, or He tried to cheat on the exam, but his teacher walked in and caught him in the act. The first term referred to blood on a murderer's hands and originally signified only that crime. Later it was extended to any offense. The variant ( catch in the act) is a translation of the Latin in flagrante delicto, part of the Roman code and long used in English law.
See also: catch

left-handed compliment

Also, backhanded compliment. An insult in the guise of an expression of praise. For example, She said she liked my hair, but it turned out to be a left-handed compliment when she asked how long I'd been dyeing it . This expression uses left-handed in the sense of "questionable or doubtful," a usage dating from about 1600.
See also: compliment


mod. lacking dexterity; clumsy. If I wasn’t so ham-handed, I could probably fix the thing myself.


mod. tactless; forceful; unfair. Paul is a little heavy-handed at times, but mostly he’s reasonable.

left-handed monkey wrench

n. a nonexistent tool. (see also sky hook.) Hand me the left-handed monkey wrench, huh?
See also: monkey, wrench