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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.
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.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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.
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.