the upper hand

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the upper hand

A position of advantage, power, and/or control (over someone, something, or some situation). Typically used after the verbs "have," "gain," or "get." The home team got the upper hand when their opponents' star quarterback went out with an injury. We've been doing everything we can for your father, but I'm afraid the cancer is gaining the upper hand. The two companies were neck and neck for years, but Mayers International seems to have the upper hand in the markets lately.
See also: hand, upper
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

*upper hand (on someone)

Fig. a position superior to someone; the advantage of someone. (*Typically: get ~; have ~; give someone ~.) John is always trying to get the upper hand on someone. He never ends up having the upper hand, though.
See also: hand, upper
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

upper hand

Also, whip hand. A dominating or controlling position, as in Once you let Jeff get the upper hand there'll be no stopping him, or When it comes to checkers, my son-in-law generally has the whip hand. The first term alludes to an ancient game in which each player in turn grasps a stick with one hand, beginning from the bottom, and the last who can put his hand at the top wins. Its figurative use dates from the late 1400s. The variant alludes to the driver who holds the whip in a horse-drawn vehicle; it was being used figuratively by the late 1600s.
See also: hand, upper
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

the upper hand

1. If someone has the upper hand, they have the most power and control in a situation. Most people who knew the couple agreed that Franzen had the upper hand in the relationship. Diplomats believe it is still far from clear which side is gaining the upper hand in the economic debate.
2. If a feeling or emotion gets the upper hand, you are not able to hide it or control it. Dan was breathing in short, sharp bursts as the tension and his exasperation gained the upper hand.
See also: hand, upper
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012
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References in classic literature ?
"They shall never get the upper hand!" said Alfred.
All the preceding classes that got the upper hand, sought to fortify their already acquired status by subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation.
"Now, Athos!" said D'Artagnan, "do you begin to believe that it's a ruined cause, and that what with your Harrisons, Joyces, Bridges and Cromwells, we shall never get the upper hand?"
At the hearin' of this, ye may swear, though, I was as mad as a grasshopper, but I remimbered that I was Sir Pathrick O'Grandison, Barronitt, and that it wasn't althegither gentaal to lit the anger git the upper hand o' the purliteness, so I made light o' the matter and kipt dark, and got quite sociable wid the little chap, and afther a while what did he do but ask me to go wid him to the widdy's, saying he wud give me the feshionable inthroduction to her leddyship.
'Where are you going?' said Rose-red; 'you surely don't want to go into the water?' 'I am not such a fool!' cried the dwarf; 'don't you see that the accursed fish wants to pull me in?' The little man had been sitting there fishing, and unluckily the wind had tangled up his beard with the fishing-line; a moment later a big fish made a bite and the feeble creature had not strength to pull it out; the fish kept the upper hand and pulled the dwarf towards him.
In all their former intercourse it had been she who by virtue of her sex and his blind love for her had kept the upper hand. And now the position was changed.
I've got the upper hand over you, Fagin; and, d--me, I'll keep it.
What is more, even in the acutest paroxysm of this cowardly fever, I dreamed of getting the upper hand, of dominating them, carrying them away, making them like me--if only for my "elevation of thought and unmistakable wit." They would abandon Zverkov, he would sit on one side, silent and ashamed, while I should crush him.
Nevertheless, tranquillity was gradually restored, the scholar held his peace, the mendicant counted over some coins in his hat, and the piece resumed the upper hand.
Both teams have played seven matches against each other with Islamabad having the upper hand over Quetta by winning four games to three.
The next game the Lady Skins couldn't quite keep the momentum as they still had good plays, but the Lady Explorers has the upper hand. The Lady Redskins lost the second one 11-25.
CROATIA v ENGLAND JORDAN PICKFORD insists playing in an empty stadium against Croatia will give England the upper hand in tonight's Nations League clash.
Speaking about the home advantage that Pakistan will have in UAE, Sohail said, the Green Shirts will definitely have the upper hand.
Speaking about the home advantage that Pakistan will have in UAE, Sohail said, the Green Shirts will definitely have the upper hand. 'Pakistan will definitely have an upper hand against all the teams as they have played in the UAE more than everybody else,' said Sohail.
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