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...went out with an high hand

Posted by Woodchuck on April 03, 2003

In Reply to: ...went out with an high hand posted by S. on April 03, 2003

: : : : Hello, I was just hoping some one might know the etymology of the term "high-handed". Thanks in advance for any assistance.

: : : According to Brewer's Phrase and Fable, with a high hand is from the french phrase "Faire une chose haut la main."

: : : However, google turned up several christian sites claiming the Hebrew for 'presumptuously' is "with a high hand," meaning open rebellion.

: : HIGH-HANDED -- Numbers 33:3 "And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians." One reference says: in the Bible "the direct ancestor of this phrase means 'triumphantly.' It is used in describing the departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage..The description does suggest a certain amount of arrogance, however, and it is probably from this passage that 'high-handed' came, with the passage of time, to mean arrogant or overbearing." From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

: : FYI - a good Bible verse look-up site I had a little trouble because Mr. Hendrickson had the chapter number wrong.

: So what would a high-handed gesture look like? One's arm straight up in the air, with the palm facing out-ward, pretty much the same as raising one's hand in a class-room setting?

: Thanks for your help.

Just theorizing here, but the image of the high hand also relates to the a hand raised to deliver the blow (Job 38:15). I would bet money the gesture is one still used today: a proud and defiant fist in the air.

See also - other French phrases in English.