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    • Join Date: Sep 2008
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    #1

    Thumbs down My hands are tied

    A high school physics teacher and myself had this disagreement about the idiom "my hands are tied". It was used in the context of a football game. A referee said that his "hands were tied" before he threw a penalty flag.
    I thought this use ridiculous. The idiom means "unable to act for some
    reason". He saw a penalty and then acted, and thus was not "unable to act".

    The physics teacher said the obvious - that the referee had meant "I am forced to act in a prescribed manner due to external forces". People use this idiom this way in society today. Is it incorrect?

    Having one's hands tied literally means one cannot do anything. Wouldn't the figurative meaning parallel the literal meaning?

    Thanks.

  1. Raymott's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: My hands are tied

    Quote Originally Posted by msrasmussen View Post
    A high school physics teacher and myself had this disagreement about the idiom "my hands are tied". It was used in the context of a football game. A referee said that his "hands were tied" before he threw a penalty flag.
    I thought this use ridiculous. The idiom means "unable to act for some
    reason". He saw a penalty and then acted, and thus was not "unable to act".

    The physics teacher said the obvious - that the referee had meant "I am forced to act in a prescribed manner due to external forces". People use this idiom this way in society today. Is it incorrect?

    Having one's hands tied literally means one cannot do anything. Wouldn't the figurative meaning parallel the literal meaning?

    Thanks.
    I've never heard it used in that way. I agree with your analysis.
    However, if it is used that way in your community and if most people understand it that way, there's little you can do. That's the way the language changes.

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