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English Idioms and Phrases: Living Hand to Mouth

Updated on January 20, 2016


'To live hand to mouth' means to experience life in times of poverty or hardship while having no food or money.

For example: "I have no money and I am living hand to mouth at the moment"

"most bankers don't pay back their debts and are living hand to mouth"


This phrase apparently first appeared during a great famine in Britain during the 16th century. It probably relates to a famine at the end of the century in 1590 that struck Europe and in particular the Netherlands.

During these times people didn't know when they would eat their next meal. When they had something that could be eaten in their hand they would eat it straight away, therefore going straight from 'hand to mouth'.

This phrase is more commonly used during times of economic hardships or famine.

Alternatives / Synonyms

poor, poverty, 'living in poverty', starving, struggling, poverty stricken, destitute.

Similar Idioms

Living on the breadline

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