sit on one's hands

sit on (one's) hands

1. To refrain from acting, intervening, or helping. They may not have broken the law themselves, but the CEOs certainly sat on their hands and allowed these illegal activities to happen unchecked. I feel so guilty for sitting on my hands while my son was going through such a difficult time in his life. Why don't you actually help us fix the issue, instead of just sitting on your hands and complaining?
2. To refrain from or refuse to applaud (someone or something). Our show really depends on the audience engaging with the performance, so it's always very off-putting when the people watching just sit on their hands the whole time. I made a point of sitting on my hands while everyone else cheered on the boss's idiotic plan. The whole crowd sat on its hands at the end of my comedy routine, which was incredibly demoralizing.
See also: hand, on, sit

sit on one's hands

Take no action; also, fail to applaud. For example, Instead of making a new will, George is sitting on his hands, or The matinee audience was apathetic, sitting on their hands for the whole performance. Both usages of this metaphor for passivity date from the first half of the 1900s.
See also: hand, on, sit