Ham-fisted and ham-handed

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Ham-fisted and ham-handed are idioms that date to the 1800s. 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 sayings ham-fisted and ham-handed, where they came from, and some examples of their idiomatic usage in sentences.

Ham-fisted and ham-handed mean clumsy, incompetent, awkward. A ham is the hock and hip of a pig. The terms ham-fisted and ham-handed are hyphenated compound words. Compounds or compound words are words that are derived from two separate words joined together. The expressions ham-fisted and ham-handed were first used in the latter-1800s, though they came into popular use sometime in the 1920s. Today, the term ham-fisted is about a third more popular than ham-handed.


Despite his administration’s ham-fisted response to the various crises currently facing Mexico, AMLO remains popular. (Forbes Magazine)

Edinburgh Council’s ham-fisted help for shops does little or no good – Kevin Buckle (Edinburgh Evening News)

Just because an attempt to steal an election is ludicrous and ham-handed doesn’t mean it can’t work (The Washington Post)

To put it bluntly, the school system’s ham-handed approach to bringing students back to campuses has turned back time in many minds. (The Savannah Morning News)

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