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Related to handed: handed off, handed out, handed over, Left handed

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, on, 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

hand on the torch

To give something to someone else, often one's position and/or responsibilities. Because Gina is retiring, she is handing on the torch to me, and I'll take over her job as supervisor. My grandmother is unable to stand long enough to cook such a large meal, so we're making Thanksgiving dinner this year—she has handed on the torch to us.
See also: hand, on, torch

hand (one) (one's) head

To completely destroy or devastate someone—as emphasized by the phrase's image of decapitation. I thought I was doing well in my new role, but man, did my boss hand me my head in my performance review!
See also: hand, head

catch (one) red-handed

To see, and perhaps apprehend, someone as they are doing something (often something nefarious). The phrase might have originally referred to blood on a murderer's hands. The police caught the robbers red-handed as they ransacked another house. Timmy tried to get into the cookie jar again, but I caught him red-handed.
See also: catch

caught in the act

Seen, and perhaps apprehended, while doing something (often something nefarious). Our security cameras caught the burglar in the act.
See also: act, caught

come away empty-handed

To return from an experience or event without having gained anything. I worked so hard to prepare for the competition, and I still came away empty-handed, thanks to another fourth-place finish. Don't come away from the dessert table empty-handed—bring me a piece of cake!
See also: away, come


1. Unskilled or clumsy with one's hands. Primarily heard in UK, Australia. No, I'm too cack-handed to repair that delicate figurine.
2. Inept in one's personal interactions. Tommy is so cack-handed that he'll never be able to mediate this situation.

hand over the baton

To bestow a particular responsibility or job on someone. The phrase refers to a relay race in which one runner literally passes a baton to the next runner. I have so much work to do now that my boss has retired and handed over the baton to me.
See also: baton, hand

hand over the reins

To bestow a particular responsibility or job on someone. I have so much work to do now that my boss has retired and handed over the reins to me.
See also: hand, reins


Overly blunt, forceful, or tactless. We need to find a way of teaching this to kids without being heavy-handed. I don't approve of their heavy-handed parenting style, but it's not for me to criticize.

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.

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

catch someone red-handed

COMMON If you catch someone red-handed, you see or find them while they are doing something illegal or wrong. The burglar was on the roof and was caught red-handed by the police. They all pleaded guilty to conspiring to import drugs after being caught red-handed by customs officers. Note: The reference here is to a guilty person whose hands are covered in blood.
See also: catch


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