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To Force One's Hand

Posted by R. Berg on March 04, 2003

In Reply to: To Force One's Hand posted by TheFallen on March 04, 2003

: : Does any one know the origin of the term "to force one's hand"? Might it have some thing to do with card games? Thanks in advance for any assistance.

: It might well. One of the meanings given in the American Heritage Dictioary for the verb "to force" is this:-

: 8. Games. To cause an opponent to play (a particular card).

: You will occasionally hear bridge players say something like "He ran his last two trumps and forced my king of diamonds."

: This doesn't definitively state that "to force someone's hand" is an idiom from the world of card-playing, but it tends to support that theory.

The Oxford Engl. Dict. has this as sense 3 of "force" as a verb: "To constrain by force (whether physical or moral); to compel; to overcome the resistance of. 'To force (one's) hand': to compel one to act prematurely or to adopt a policy he dislikes. Cf. Fr. 'forcer la main a quelqu'un.'" Sense 3c of "force" is a collection of three meanings limited to "Card playing, esp. in Whist." So there's no suggestion in these definitions that "to force one's hand"originated with cards.