dead hand


Definition of dead hand

2 : the oppressive influence of the past

Did you know?

Does "dead hand" make you picture a pale dismembered hand creeping slowly toward its next unsuspecting victim? If so, you're in for a surprise - but not a scary one. "Dead hand" is a literal translation of the etymology of an older English word, "mortmain," which comes from the Old French words morte (meaning "dead") and "main" (meaning "hand"). In very unspooky terms, the words describe property that is left to a company, church, or charity in perpetuity. The "oppressive past influence" sense of both "mortmain" and "dead hand" developed from the idea of the dead exercising posthumous control over their property by dictating how it must be used after they die.

First Known Use of dead hand

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of dead hand was in the 14th century

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Cite this Entry

“Dead hand.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Aug. 2022.

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dead hand


Legal Definition of dead hand


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