dead hand


Definition of dead hand 

2 : the oppressive influence of the past

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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.

Examples of dead hand in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Already, however, the dead hand of lazy punditry is descending on what happened here on Tuesday. Charles P. Pierce, Esquire, "I Saw a Miracle in Alabama Last Night," 13 Dec. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'dead hand.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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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dead hand


Legal Definition of dead hand 

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What made you want to look up dead hand? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


obstinately defiant of authority

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