Etymology
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mortmain (n.)

"inalienable ownership," mid-15c., from Anglo-French morte mayn (mid-14c.), Old French mortemain, literally "dead hand," from Medieval Latin mortua manus; for first element see mortal (adj.); second is from PIE root *man- (2) "hand." Probably a metaphorical expression on the notion of dead hands as those that cannot alienate.

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Definitions of mortmain

mortmain (n.)
real property held inalienably (as by an ecclesiastical corporation);
Synonyms: dead hand
mortmain (n.)
the oppressive influence of past events or decisions;
Synonyms: dead hand / dead hand of the past
From wordnet.princeton.edu