Entries linking to handwork
Old English hond, hand "the human hand;" also "side, part, direction" (in defining position, to either right or left); also "power, control, possession" (on the notion of the hand's grip or hold), from Proto-Germanic *handuz (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch, German hand, Old Norse hönd, Gothic handus), which is of uncertain origin.
The original Old English plural handa was superseded in Middle English by handen, later hands. Indo-European "hand" words tend to be from roots meaning "seize, take, collect" or are extended from words originally meaning only a part of the hand (such as Irish lam, Welsh llaw, cognate with Latin palma and originally meaning "palm of the hand"). One ancient root (*man- (2)), represented by Latin manus is the source of Old English mund "hand," but more usually meaning "protection, guardianship; a protector, guardian."
Meaning "manual worker, person who does something with his hands" is from 1580s, hence "hired workman" (1630s) and "sailor in a ship's crew" (1660s). Meaning "agency, part in doing something" is from 1590s. Clock and watch sense is from 1570s. Meaning "round of applause" is from 1838. The linear measure of 4 inches (originally 3) is from 1560s, now used only in giving the height of horses. The meaning "playing cards held in one player's hand" is from 1620s; that of "a round at a card game" is from 1620s. Meaning "handwriting" is from late 14c.; also "one's style of penmanship" (early 15c.). The word in reference to the various uses of hands in making a pledge is by c. 1200; specifically "one's pledge of marriage" by late 14c.
First hand, second hand, etc. (mid-15c.) are from the notion of something being passed from hand to hand. At hand is from c. 1200 as "near in time," c. 1300 as "within reach." Out of hand (1590s) is opposite of in hand "under control" (c. 1200). Adverbial phrase hand-over-fist (1803) is nautical, suggestive of hauling or climbing by passing the hands one before the other alternately.
Phrase on the one hand ... on the other hand is recorded from 1630s, a figurative use of the physical sense of hand in reference to position on one side or the other side of the body (as in the lefthand side), which goes back to Old English Hands up! as a command from a policeman, robber, etc., is from 1863, from the image of holding up one's hands as a token of submission or non-resistance. Hand-to-hand "in close contact," of fighting, is from c. 1400. Hand-to-mouth "said of a person who spends his money as fast as he gets it, who earns just enough to live on from day to day" [Bartlett] is from c. 1500. Hand-in-hand attested from c. 1500 as "with hands clasped;" figurative sense of "concurrently" recorded from 1570s.
Old English weorc, worc "something done, discrete act performed by someone, action (whether voluntary or required), proceeding, business; that which is made or manufactured, products of labor," also "physical labor, toil; skilled trade, craft, or occupation; opportunity of expending labor in some useful or remunerative way;" also "military fortification." This is from Proto-Germanic *werka- "work" (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch werk, Old Norse verk, Middle Dutch warc, Old High German werah, German Werk, Gothic gawaurki), from PIE *werg-o-, a suffixed form of the root *werg- "to do."
The meaning "physical effort, exertion" is from c. 1200; that of "scholarly labor" or its productions is from c. 1200; the meaning "artistic labor" or its productions is from c. 1200. The sense of "labor as a measurable commodity" is from c. 1300. The meaning "embroidery, stitchery, needlepoint" is from late 14c.
Work of art attested by 1774 as "artistic creation," earlier (1728) "artifice, production of humans (as opposed to nature)." Work ethic recorded from 1959. To be out of work "unemployed" is from 1590s. To make clean work of is from c. 1300; to make short work of is from 1640s.
Proverbial expression many hands make light work is from c. 1300. To have (one's) work cut out for one is from 1610s; to have it prepared and prescribed, hence, to have all one can handle. Work in progress is from 1930 in a general sense, earlier as a specific term in accountancy and parliamentary procedure.
Work is less boring than amusing oneself. [Baudelaire, "Mon Coeur mis a nu," 1862]
updated on May 15, 2015