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You can tell a lot about people by looking at their hands and feeling them. Jesus was a carpenter; Peter and other disciples were fishermen, so they would have had rough hands, with callouses and cuts on them. Matthew, the tax collector, was more likely to have had smooth, even shiny hands, from handling mostly money.


When Joice almost died of an ectopic pregnancy in Papua New Guinea, her emergency surgery was done by a man from Europe who had (from our viewpoint) an accent. Joice thought that her surgery would result in a small incision, but it was large. When she asked the doctor about it, he exclaimed “Iva gota big hans.” He did, and when Joice needed surgery a few years later the doctor was Korean, and the incision was small because he had small hands.


Those surgeries became part of our family lore, but the hands of person do tell us a lot. The fingers of some piano players are long, and the pianist can therefore reach a wide spread of keys. Some athletes also have immense hands with long fingers and can hold a basketball like I would a tennis ball.


The word for “hands” in many languages also includes the fingers, wrist, forearm, and upper arm—although there are names for the individual parts of the hand as well. However, the word alone can refer to the whole extremity. When Jesus showed Thomas his “hands,” he showed him the scars on his wrists where the nails had been driven into them. Then he showed him his side, where the sword had pierced him. Thomas had said: “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” Jesus invited him to do both.


The word for “hands” in English is very “handy.” If we want to “give someone a hand,” we can help them in some way or we can applaud them for what they have done. We are metaphorically extending our hands to show our care or approval. Some people are indeed “handy,” meaning that they can do many things quite easily, often with their hands.


Because of dishwashers, we probably don’t see many people with “dishpan hands” today, but at one time dry, red, and scaly hands signaled prolonged exposure to soap and water. It was probably a big family with lots of dishes to wash. I never had the problem.


The Kewa people, with whom we lived for several years in Papua New Guinea, did not traditionally greet one another by shaking hands. Grown men might pull a bit on one another’s beards (all grown men had beards) and women would hug one’s legs. The accepted and new way of greeting one another is now to say “ki gi” (give me your hand). 


When things get “out of hand,” it is difficult to control what is happening, but when you ‘give a hand” to someone you are helping them. And object may “change hands,” as in a sale, and you might want to be “on hand” if a good sale is happening. 


In the old days we talked about secondhand clothes or cars, but now these are “previously owned” or even “previously loved.” But don’t be misled, the owner is glad to get rid of them.


If you want to show how loyal you are or how true your words are, you might put you hand over your heart rather than “bite the hand that feeds you” or “take matters into your own hands.” However, people with an artificial heart are not less serious.


Did you ever feel like your hands were “tied,” and that you couldn’t do anything about the situation? Perhaps you were caught “red handed” thinking that “a bird in the hand” was better than going hungry.


The word hand occurs in some odd expressions too, like “handsome,” which refers more to the face than hands or “handkerchief,” which is a piece of cloth, although best held by the hands if you sneeze or cough.


I think you can “hand it to me” that I have noted some expressions that go “hand in glove.” Until later and then we might have all “hands on deck” (which would be pretty gruesome) for the funding initiative, which we trust will not be “heavy handed.”


Karl Franklin

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