have one’s hands full: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘have one's hands full’ mean?

The idiom "have one's hands full" means to be very busy or have a lot of work or responsibilities to deal with.

Idiom Explorer

Busy Hands Unveiled

The idiom "have one's hands full" is a commonly used expression in the English language. It is often used to indicate that someone is very busy or has a lot to deal with. The origins of this idiom can be traced back to the late 16th century, but the exact source is unknown.

One possible explanation for the origin of this idiom is that it stems from the idea of having so many things to hold or carry that one's hands become completely occupied. This literal interpretation of the idiom can be seen in various forms throughout history.

Another possible origin of the idiom is related to the concept of being overwhelmed or preoccupied with tasks or responsibilities. This figurative interpretation is supported by the fact that the expression is often used to describe situations where someone is dealing with a lot of work, challenges, or obligations.

I am overwhelmed and burdened with work.

In contemporary usage, the idiom "have one's hands full" is commonly used to describe situations such as being busy at work, taking care of multiple responsibilities, or dealing with a challenging situation that requires a lot of attention and effort. It is a versatile phrase that can be applied to various scenarios, making it a useful idiom for expressing the idea of being fully occupied or overwhelmed.

The related idiom "fill one's hand" is also worth mentioning. This idiom means to take on a responsibility or task with confidence and competence. It can be used in situations where someone willingly accepts a challenge or assumes a role that requires skill and expertise. The concept of filling one's hand can be seen as a progression from having one's hands full. When someone has their hands full, they may feel overwhelmed or burdened, but when they fill their hand, they take control and demonstrate their ability to handle the situation.

Similarly, the idiom "have a hand in" is related to having one's hands full. This idiom means to be involved or participate in something. It can be used to describe someone's influence or contribution to a project or decision. When someone has their hands full, they are fully occupied, but when they have a hand in something, they actively participate and play a role in its outcome.

Overall, the idiom "have one's hands full" has a long history dating back to the late 16th century, although its exact origins remain uncertain. The idiom has evolved to become a widely used expression in the English language, conveying the idea of being very busy or having a lot to deal with. Its figurative meaning and versatile usage make it a valuable phrase for describing situations where one is fully occupied, overwhelmed, or actively involved.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "have one's hands full" can be used in a sentence:

  • 1. She's a working single mother, so she always has her hands full balancing her job and taking care of her children.
  • 2. The company is currently expanding, and the CEO has his hands full managing the new projects and hiring additional staff.
  • 3. With final exams approaching, the students have their hands full studying and preparing for their tests.

More "Busy" idioms

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