Get Your Hands Dirty – Meaning & Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

To get your hands dirty means to become involved in all aspects of a job, including the more unpleasant tasks. But it has both literal and figurative uses, which I’ll cover in this quick guide. If you’ve ever wondered how this phrase came about or when to use it, stick around as I do a deep dive into the expression get your hands dirty.

What Is the Meaning of Get Your Hands Dirty?

Get Your Hands Dirty – Meaning Origin

The phrase get your hands dirty has both a literal and figurative meaning. Literally, it describes doing some manual labor that could cause your hands to become dirty, like gardening or repairing a car.

I love getting my hands dirty in our garden each morning. It’s a great way to start the day, but sometimes, I end up with flecks of dirt in my coffee!

Now, figuratively, it’s used to encourage or describe someone who’s willing to perform all aspects of a task, especially the more menial or unpleasant parts. We usually apply it to situations where we’re applauding someone’s commitment to doing something.

Take publishing, for example. It’s a messy industry, whether you’re indie or traditionally published. And as authors, we often have to get our hands dirty with all aspects of producing a book: editing, designing, marketing, etc.

It’s also applied to special situations where someone is up to no good and doing seedy things that are usually illegal.

Different Tenses to Use

Depending on the situation, you can use this phrase in various tenses:

  • Get your hands dirty (Imperative): You’ll never understand the process until you get your hands dirty.
  • Gets one’s hands dirty (Present Simple): A good leader gets their hands dirty with their team.
  • Got one’s hands dirty (Past Simple): She got her hands dirty when she decided to start her own business.
  • Getting your hands dirty (Present Continuous): There’s no better feeling than getting your hands dirty with some home gardening.

Origin and Etymology Behind the Phrase Get Your Hands Dirty

Get Your Hands Dirty Ngram
Get your hands dirty usage trend.

There’s no definitive origin of the phrase get your hands dirty. But, it is alluded to in the Bible when Pontius Pilate made a show of his innocence in Jesus’ death by washing his hands in a bowl of water in front of everyone. However, it wasn’t used as an idiom or a common phrase until the mid-1800s.

Get Your Hands Dirty Synonyms

Positive Contexts

  • Pitch in
  • Take part
  • Participate
  • Dive in
  • Roll up your sleeves

Negative Contexts

  • Blood on your hands
  • Up to no good
  • In deep trouble

Using Get Your Hands Dirty: Examples in a Sentence

Get Your Hands Dirty – Meaning Origin 1

  • To truly understand how to be a good baker, you need to get your hands dirty.
  • My brother gets his hands dirty every day at his mechanic job.
  • They definitely got their hands dirty during the community cleanup event.
  • Candace is not afraid to get her hands dirty and take on hard tasks.
  • Despite his senior position, he still gets his hands dirty with the team.
  • He’s getting his hands dirty, learning every aspect of the family business before he one day takes it over.
  • I knew he was getting his hands dirty after joining that gang of hooligans.
  • She got her hands dirty when she volunteered to help build the school playground.
  • To grow organic vegetables, you’ve got to get your hands dirty.
  • He was a hands-on manager who wasn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty.

Dirt, Sweat and Success: Getting Your Hands Dirty

Now you should fully understand how to use the phrase get your hands dirty, whether in your work or personal life. Idioms like this add color and vibrancy to language, making conversations much more engaging and writing far more interesting. Keep exploring more idioms with my other helpful guides!