Italian Language Blog

Let me give you a hand Posted by on Aug 20, 2013 in Italian Language

Mano = hand, like occhio = eye, which we explored in a previous blog, is another word whose roots can be found in a range of vocabulary and expressions which I’ll cover in this blog. But first, let’s have a look at the hand itself. The first thing to note is that la mano is irregular in that it is a feminine word ending in ‘o’, which is typically a masculine ending:

la mano = the hand (fem. sing), plural le mani

Here are the basic parts of the hand:

il dito = the finger (masc. sing.), plural le dita (fem. plur.)

il pollice = the thumb

l’indice  = the index finger

il medio = the middle finger

l’anulare = the ring finger

il mignolo = the little finger

la nocca = the knuckle

l’unghia = the nail (fem. sing.)

il palmo = the palm

il dorso = the back of the hand

Hands from Michelangelo’s La Creazione di Adamo

Here are a few words which derive from mano, beginning with a sometimes controversial one:

manager = manager, contrary to a misguided theory proposed by certain feminists the word manager (we use the word in its English form) has nothing to do with men, i.e. man (male person) ager. It derives instead from the Latin manu agere = to lead by the hand

manuale = manual, literally: ‘by hand’, or handbook, as in manuale di istruzione or manuale d’uso (instruction manual). N.B. Libretto di istruzione (instruction booklet) is also widely used

manodopera = labour, literally: ‘handwork’ (can also be written mano d’opera but the former is more correct). Hence manodopera stagionale (seasonal labour), costo della manodepera (labour cost), etc.

manovale = labourer

manovra = manoeuvre, literally: ‘operation carried out by hand’ (the English word manure also comes from the same root)

manufatto = manufactured product, artefact, handwork, literally: ‘made by hand’, hence manifattura = manufacturing

maneggiare = to handle

il manico/la maniglia = the handle, such as a door handle: la maniglia della porta

la manovella = the crank

la manopola = the knob

la manica = the sleeve, N.B. we also use La Manica to describe ‘The English Channel’

la manica a vento = the windsock, literally: ‘the wind sleeve’

le manette = the handcuffs


… and a few useful expressions that use the word mano:

a portata di mano = close at hand, hence: tenere a portata di mano (keep close at hand)

mani di pasta frolla = butter fingers, literally: ‘short crust pastry hands’

fare la mano morta = to touch someone (with sexual intent) by pretending it was an accident, literally: ‘to do the dead hand’

dare una mano = to give a hand, e.g. domani ti do una mano sull’orto (I’ll give you a hand in the vegetable garden tomorrow), or le posso dare una mano, signora? (can I give you a hand madam?).

stringere la mano a qualcuno = to shake someone’s hand, literally: ‘to squeeze the hand’

una persona alla mano = a simple person

scritto/composto a quattro mani = co-written, literally: written/composed by four hands (i.e. by two people)

una mano lava l’altra e tutt’e due lavano il viso = cooperation is more effective, literally: one hand washes the other one and both wash the face

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