In Reply to: Look Ma, no hands posted by ESC on May 26, 2008 at 09:40:
: : Several years ago a person asked about the origin of "Look Ma, no hands." There were a few replies, but none with a direct answer. I would like to renew the inquiry. I do remember in my youth hearing a "sick" joke about a boy who was riding his bicycle and each time he came into view he said those words, but "hands" became some other part of the body that was missing. Finally, he was physically reduced to practically nothing, and the tale ended with a punch-line. Unfortunately, I cannot recall what that punch line was, but perhaps this background might help somebody come up with the correct ending.
: That is a grisly joke!
I just looked through the responses to "Look, Ma, no hands!" and perhaps I was fooled by the fact that it seems so obvious. I'm sure that some individual somewhere coined the phrase, and it struck a chord because every boy, and possibly every girl, who has ever learned to ride a bike has soon found himself practicing riding with no hands. It is indubitably a form of showing off, of exhibiting mastery and proving oneself to one's peers, if not also to one's mother. The actual phrase, even leaving mother out of it, is something one would think, but probably not say.
With Mother added, it becomes a sort of paradigm of showing off, of calling attention to one's prowess--in this case, prowess in riding a bicycle.
The phrase thus evokes a universal experience and the universal emotion attached, the feeling of braggadocio, perhaps. Versions like, "no hands, no teeth," are imaginative variants, easily recognizable as such. Marilyn Vos Savant has a column in Parade magazine in which a weekly feature is to repeat a well-known cliché and ask the readers to provide their own variants, for the purpose of humor. All those imaginative variants on "Look, Ma, no hands!" are similar, in that they take a well-known cliché and offer their own humorous variants.