Force one’s hand

  • Force one’s hand is an idiom that is over 100 years old. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom force one’s hand, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.


    To force one’s hand means to compel someone to reveal his plans or perform an action before he is ready. For instance, a person may be planning to buy a new house but wants to sell the house he is living in first; if another buyer shows interest in the new house, it may force the buyer’s hand and prompt him to buy the new house sooner than he’d wished. The idiom force one’s hand came into use in the mid-1800s and refers to card-playing. In many card games, a preceding play may force one to play a card that reveals the other cards in one’s hand or force one to make a certain move too early in the game. Related phrases are forces one’s hand, forced one’s hand, forcing one’s hand.



    Joining the “cancel-free” platform offered by Miller may not be Trump’s end goal, but his dwindling influence over social media since his Twitter ban could force his hand. (National Review)

    “Our regulars are all great, but you get the odd vagrant that comes through and, honestly, I don’t know what to do… We shouldn’t have to shut down, but this is what’s going to force my hand to do it.” (Vancouver Island Free Daily)

    “I could have done better but I was dealing with a wicked addiction to pain killers and it forced my hand with dealing in life’s hard choices.“ (Parade Magazine

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