Possibly an allusion to card games such as poker in which hands are the sets of cards held by players.


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the upper hand (usually uncountable, plural upper hands)

  1. (idiomatic) Advantage or control.
    • 1855, Washington Irving, "Guests from Gibbet Island":
      There was no refusing him, for he had got the complete upper hand of the community, and the peaceful burghers all stood in awe of him.
    • 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson, chapter 23, in Treasure Island:
      [C]uriosity began to get the upper hand, and I determined I should have one look through the cabin window.
    • 1911, Joseph Conrad, chapter 1, in Under Western Eyes:
      There it was Razumov who had the upper hand, in a composed sense of his own superiority.
    • 2003, Christine Gorman, "Playing Chicken With Our Antibiotics," Time, 14 Feb.:
      And because they live everywhere and reproduce quickly, bacteria have the upper hand.


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