ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

25 Arm, Finger, and Hand Idioms Explained to English as a Second Language Learners

Updated on September 30, 2012
Iron Fist
Iron Fist | Source

Idioms or idiomatic expressions are word combinations that have symbolic, and not literal, meanings.

Because they do have symbolic meanings, they can be quite difficult for English as a Second Language or ESL learners to master.

Also, unlike native English speakers, many ESL learners do not usually use idioms in everyday language, making it even more difficult for them to learn these expressions.

Just the same, there is a way to go around the difficulty of learning idioms and that is to simply learn as many examples of idioms as possible.

Below are just 25 examples of idioms in the category of arms, fingers, and hands.

1. Bite the Hand that Feeds (Someone)

To bite the hand that feeds (someone) is an idiomatic expression that means to hurt or harm a person who actually does kind acts for us.


She bites the hand that feeds her when she says bad words about the person who helps pay for her education.

2. Catch (Someone) Red-Handed

To catch someone red-handed is to see someone performing an action that is bad or wrong.


The woman caught her husband red-handed when he went out on a date with his female co-worker.

3. Caught with One’s Hands in the Cookie Jar

The idiom caught with one’s hands in the cookie jar has the same meaning as the idiom catch someone red-handed. The former also means to be seen in the act of doing something bad or wrong.


The husband was caught with his hands in the cookie jar when he was seen on a date with his female co-worker.

4. Cost an Arm and Leg

Something may cost an arm and leg if it is very expensive.


Her collections of high-end makeup and pricey watches cost an arm and leg.

5. Cross One’s Fingers OR Keep One’s Fingers Crossed

The idiomatic expressions cross one’s fingers and keep one’s fingers crossed have the same meanings. They both mean to wish for good luck.


She crossed her fingers that she would land the high-paying job.

6. Fall into the Wrong Hands

Fall into the wrong hands is an idiom that means that something sensitive, classified as a secret, or considered to be dangerous may be seized by a person who might use that thing in a harmful way.


The secret document fell into the wrong hands. Now, gangsters are using the document to extort the government official.

7. First Hand

People experience something first hand if they see, hear, feel, taste, or smell it personally or directly.


I had to see the place first hand to be convinced that it was really a good property to buy.

8. Gain/Get the Upper Hand on (Someone or Something)

To gain/get the upper hand on (someone or something) means to be in a position that is more advantageous than the position of other people.


The Russian athlete gained the upper hand on his American rivals when he was able to dive into the pool quicker.

9. Get out of Hand

Something may get out of hand if it becomes tough to manage.


The celebrations got out of hand when the bull went loose and people started running in all directions.

10. Give a Big Hand to/for (Someone)

To give a big hand to/for (someone) is to clap for a person after and/or before a performance.


Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big hand for Millie, the music prodigy!

11. Go Away Empty-Handed

Go away empty-handed is an idiom that means to leave without carrying or having anything.


The beggar went away empty-handed after the wealthy people in the house refused to give her a penny.

12. Go Hand in Hand with (Something)

A thing may go hand in hand with (something) if it is related or relevant.


They say that perseverance and hope go hand in hand with success. You can’t be successful just by being lazy and not dreaming of big things in life.

13. Green Thumb

A person has a green thumb if he or she can grow plants well or has exceptional skills in gardening.


Sofia has a green thumb. She grows all the vegetables that her family eats.

14. Hands Down

Hands down is an idiom that means effortlessly or clearly.


The Romanian gymnast won the games hands down. The judges gave her a perfect score.

A Shot in the Arm
A Shot in the Arm | Source

15. Have One’s Fingers in Too Many Pies

To have one’s fingers in too many pies is to be involved in many activities or to be doing many things.


He has his fingers in too many pies and cannot seem get enough rest.

16. Have One’s Hands Full with (Someone or Something)

To have one’s hands full with (someone or something) means to be busy doing something.


She has her hands full with taking care of her newborn twins and her preschooler.

17. Know (Something/Someone) Like the Back/Palm of Someone’s Hands

To know (something/someone) like the back/palm of someone’s hands is to know something or someone so well.


The mother knows her daughter like the palm of her hands. She knows when she’s feeling down or when she needs a hug.

18. Live from Hand to Mouth

To live from hand to mouth is to subsist marginally or live with very little money.


They had lived from hand to mouth so they know how important it is to earn, grow, and save money.

19. Long Arm of the Law

Long arm of the law is an idiomatic expression that means that authorities are powerful that they are able to track down and punish offenders.


The long arm of the law was able to hunt down the billionaire who went missing after being accused of tax evasion.

20. Read the Handwriting on the Wall

To read the handwriting on the wall is to observe small signs or symbols and be able to guess what will happen in the future based on them.


You have to read the handwriting on the wall and realize that you may soon have no source of income.

21. The Right Hand Does Not Know What the Left Hand is Doing

The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing is an idiomatic expression that means there are no effective ways of communicating within a group, so some people do not know what others are doing.


In this company, the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. We have to improve our communications so we can complete projects fast.

22. Rule of Thumb

A rule of thumb is an accepted method.


It is a rule of thumb to always check our sentences for errors before passing our essays to our English teachers.

23. Rule with an Iron Fist

To rule with an iron fist is to harshly control a person or people.


The dictator ruled with an iron fist and imprisoned anyone who criticized him.

24. A Shot in the Arm

A shot in the arm is an idiom that means to experience something that is inspirational or stimulating.


Reading the stories of ordinary people who became successful is a shot in the arm for the aspiring entrepreneur.

25. A Slap on the Wrist

A slap on the wrist is an idiomatic expression that refers to a light punishment given to offenders.


The punishment for the company is a slap on the wrist. It is so light that the company can afford to commit the offense again.

Copyright © 2012 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved

Useful and Helpful Hubs on Idioms or Idiomatic Expressions

Idiom - Green Fingers or Green Thumb


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This was very interesting and informative.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)