The hand carries more than we give it credit for.
Its symbolism and gestural language are so deeply embedded in universal human culture, that we seldom stop to think how much is dependant on those four fingers and thumb.
The hand is, as Aristotle put it, “the tool of tools”, but its utility extends beyond the apparatuses that propelled civilisation. The hand, in every society, spans a language in itself. In the Arab world, it has a prominent role in the symbolisms of reverence, charity, helplessness and discipline, as well as the lack thereof.
Yadd is Arabic for hand. Ayaadi is the word in its plural form.
A saying that promotes generosity is: al yadd al ulya kheyrun min al yadd al sufla – “the upper hand is better than the lower hand”.
If a person has learnt or was raised under someone, you could say: kharaja/kharajat min taht yadd fulan – he/she emerged from under the hand of somebody.
The hand can also imply powerlessness in the saying: al amru laysa bi yadi – the matter isn’t in my hands.
A person who is long of hand, taweel al yadd, is a person who deceives and steals from others. Someone with a short reach, yaduhu/yaduha qasira, is a person who has the means to meet only their own needs.
An open hand, as it does in English, implies kindness. Saying yaduhu/yaduha maftooha is to say he/she is generous. Conversely, yaduhu/yaduha masika implies miserliness.
If someone gives you something from the back of their hand, they do it almost unwillingly. A’atahu al mal min dhahri yadihi – he gave him money from the back of his hand.
A person can wash their hands of liability – ghasala yadahu min al mas'ouliya or ghasalat yadaha min al mas'ouliya.
To take someone’s hand is to help them, akhaza/akhazat bi yadihi/yadiha.
Tabaadalu al ayaadi is said when something exchanges hands. Hattu ayadeehom ma ba’d wa najahu – is when two people work together to accomplish something. Tashabak al ayaadi is when hands intertwine. Hott yadaka bi yadi is when you offer to work together with someone to accomplish something. Aboos yadaka/yadaki – let me kiss your hand, is a common phrase said to the elderly to express respect.
Sa'aksor yadaka/yadaki is a common idiomatic warning, meaning I’ll break your hand – of course, it’s more words than action. Hatteit yadi ala galbi is a common expression to signify fear, meaning I put my hand on my heart.
And finally, yadd wahida la tusaffeq – meaning a single hand doesn’t clap, an expression that has several counterarguments, one being: lakinnaha taktub – but it writes.