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 But Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana performed so poorly that their responses could not be graded. Pried from my cold, dead hands. Fortune, "New Alphabet CEO, same old ABCs," 4 Feb. 2020 The result is a sensible and welcome escape from the dead hand of mathematical models of economics. Schism. The Economist, "Our books of the year," 7 Dec. 2019 One of the last scenes of the film shows former lovers, now zombies, pacing back and forth past each other, obliviously emotionless as their dead hands brush against each other. Noah Berlatsky, The Verge, "Why zombies are so hilarious," 5 Dec. 2018 In the long run, this would mean that each president would have the opportunity to make two Supreme Court appointments every four years, and the dead hand of the past would no longer govern the future. William A. Galston, WSJ, "A Few Steps Toward a Steadier U.S. Politics," 2 Oct. 2018 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.

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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 4 Jul. 2020.

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