putty in someone’s hands: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘putty in someone's hands’ mean?

The idiom "putty in someone's hands" means to be completely under someone's control or influence, easily manipulated or influenced by that person.

Idiom Explorer

Mind Molding

A well-known idiom, 'putty in someone's hands' describes a person who is easily influenced or controlled by someone else. The origins of this idiom can be traced back to the early 19th century. The figurative meaning of the idiom has remained consistent over time.

The idiom 'putty in someone's hands' draws on the concept of putty, a malleable material used for filling gaps or sculpting. The use of putty emphasizes the idea of being easily shaped. When someone is described as being 'putty in someone's hands,' it suggests that they can be molded or controlled effortlessly, just like the material itself.

The idiom's popularity has continued to grow, being frequently used in both written and spoken English. It has become a staple in conversations, particularly when discussing relationships or power dynamics.

Interestingly, the idiom 'putty in someone's hands' is related to other idioms that convey a similar concept. For instance, the expression 'puppet on a string' also shares the idea of someone being controlled or manipulated by another person. These idioms convey a sense of vulnerability and subservience.

Obedience and vulnerability put hands under tight control.

While 'putty in someone's hands' is a vivid and evocative idiom, it is important to recognize that its usage can also carry a negative connotation. Being described as putty implies a lack of autonomy or agency, suggesting a person's vulnerability to manipulation.

Despite its negative undertones, the idiom remains a useful way to describe situations or individuals who are easily swayed or controlled. In an ever-changing world where power dynamics constantly come into play, the idiom 'putty in someone's hands' serves as a cautionary reminder and a means of articulating the complexities of human relationships.

Another related idiom is 'in someone's pocket.' This phrase describes a person who is under someone else's control or influence, similar to being 'putty in someone's hands.' Both idioms highlight the power dynamics at play and the ease with which one person can manipulate another.

Similarly, the idiom 'eat out of someone's hand' conveys a similar concept. This phrase suggests that a person is willing to do anything for someone else and is completely under their influence. Like being 'putty in someone's hands,' being 'eaten out of someone's hand' implies a sense of vulnerability and subservience.

'on someone's hands' is another idiom related to being 'putty in someone's hands.' This phrase refers to a responsibility or burden that one person has to deal with. It can also suggest that someone is under someone else's control or influence, much like being 'putty in someone's hands.'

Lastly, the idiom 'get into the wrong hands' carries a slightly different meaning. This phrase implies that something has fallen into the possession or control of someone who will use it improperly or for malicious purposes. While 'putty in someone's hands' generally describes a person who is easily influenced, 'get into the wrong hands' refers to something that has ended up in the possession of someone who will misuse it.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "putty in someone's hands" can be used in a sentence:

  1. She was putty in his hands, allowing him to convince her to do whatever he wanted.
  2. The salesman was skilled at making customers feel like putty in his hands, easily persuading them to buy his products.
  3. Knowing her vulnerability, he manipulated her emotions and easily molded her like putty in his hands.

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