English

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Etymology

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From Middle English over hond, from Old English ofer- + hand (superior control; superior position). Not, as supposed, from a card game or counting-out game.

Pronunciation

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Noun

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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 February 14, Christine Gorman, “Playing Chicken With Our Antibiotics”, in Time:
      And because they live everywhere and reproduce quickly, bacteria have the upper hand.
    • 2020 August 26, Andrew Mourant, “Reinforced against future flooding”, in Rail, page 61:
      "We've now protected the line from similar-sized flooding-events and bigger ones," he says. That's quite some claim for a line where floods have often had the upper hand in the past 16 years, causing track bed and embankments to be rebuilt.
  2. (obsolete) The place of honour accorded to a social superior when walking together; the right of way in walking

Translations

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