One hand washes the other

One hand washes the other is a proverb with roots in ancient times. A proverb is a short, common saying or phrase that may be a famous quote, an inspirational quote, an epigram, or the topic of a parable. These common sayings are language tools or figures of speech that particularly give advice or share a universal truth, or impart wisdom. Synonyms for proverb include adage, aphorism, sayings, and byword, which can also be someone or something that is the best example of a group. Often, a proverb is so familiar that a speaker will only quote half of it, relying on the listener to supply the ending of the written or spoken proverb himself because these common phrases and popular sayings are so well known. Certain phrases may be a metaphor or a quotation; but if it is a proverb, it is often-used and has a figurative meaning. Speakers of English as a second language are sometimes confused by these pithy sayings as translations from English to other languages do not carry the impact that the English phrases carry. Some common proverbs are the wise sayings better late than never; early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise; an apple a day keeps the doctor away; don’t cry over spilt milk; actions speak louder than words; haste makes waste, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. One of the books of the Bible is the Book of Proverbs, which contains words and phrases that are still often quoted in the English language because they are wise. Many current proverbs are quotations taken from literature, particularly Shakespeare, as well as the Bible and other sacred writings. We will examine the meaning of the proverb one hand washes the other, where the expression came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

One hand washes the other describes a transaction in which two people help each other, two people work toward the same goal, or two people exchange favors. The proverb one hand washes the other refers to the fact that when someone washes his hands, each hand rubs the other to clean it, but in the process, each hand also becomes clean. The expression one hand washes the other came into the English language at the turn of the seventeenth century from the German, from a translation of Joannes Ferrarius’ work, Touchynge the Good Orderynge of a Common Weale. The origin of the expression one hand washes the other has been traced to a work ascribed to Seneca the Younger, the Pumpkinification of Claudius, which uses the phrase: “Manus manam lavat,” which translates to hand washes hand.


“One hand washes the other, but one hand rewards the other, too,” Townsend said. (Valley News)

“And what does Walmart do if people don’t have the money to spend?” she said, adding that “one hand washes the other, and everyone has to be good with each other until this is over with.” (Fall River Herald News)

“It’s sort of one hand washes the other here, where the police are unable to come in and beat down the protesters in this way sometimes, and so the far right, which absolutely supports the police, does it for them.” (Guardian)

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