To Get the upper hand.

Posted by ESC on July 11, 2003

In Reply to: To Get the upper hand. posted by woody on July 11, 2003

: What is the origin of this phrase ? Does it have anything to do with the practice of two baseball players stacking their hands around a bat until they reach the top and the player with his hand on top gets to bat first?

Mr. Hendrickson says:

GETTING THE UPPER HAND - "It would seem on first thought that this expression derives from the way kids choose sides with a bat in sandlot baseball. Two players, usually the best two by general agreement, participate in the choosing. One puts a hand around the bat near the fat end, then the other puts a hand around the bat just above his hand. This goes on, hand over hand, until the bottom of the bat is reached and there is no room for another hand. The last hand on the bat wins the contest (although the loser does have the chance to delicately grasp with his fingertips whatever little wood is left and twist it around his head, winning if he can hold on to the bat while doing this three times). The winner, in any case, gets to choose first for the first player on his team and the picks are made in rotation thereafter. Perhaps this sandlot choosing popularized the expression 'getting the upper hand,' 'getting the best of someone,' but the phrase apparently was used long before the age of sandlot baseball. It probably derives from an English game of chance that has been traced back to the 15th century and was played in the same way as the sandlot choosing contest." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).