Talking to the hand

From Dennis Lewis on Facebook recently:


The evolution of English: when this episode of “Match Game” was filmed 40 odd years ago, these were the top three responses to complete the phrase “talk to…” Today, of course, the $500 response would be “the hand.”

The idiom talk to the hand seems to have become current only in the 1990s, so in the 1970s nobody would have been likely to suggest the hand as the blank-filler on the Match Game.

The idiom. From NOAD:

(#2) The idiom in Yoda-speak

talk to the hand (also tell it to the hand [and speak to the hand]):  [in imperative] informal used as a contemptuous way of dismissing what someone has said (often accompanied by a gesture in which the palm of the hand is held in front of the original speaker’s face): talk to the hand, girl, ‘cos the face ain’t listening. [quotation apparently from Martin Lawrence’s tv series Martin]

From the Wikipedia article:

The phrase is often considered to be sarcastic or obnoxious. The phrase was popularized by actor and comedian Martin Lawrence in his 1992[-1997] sitcom Martin. The phrase is formally reported from as early as 1995, when a local Indianapolis magazine story noted “Talk to the hand — The phrase, which means, ‘Shut up’, is accompanied by a hand in front of the victim’s face”. [“Slanguage”, Indianapolis Monthly 18.4, p. 24 (Aug. 1995)]

Uses. About the show Martin, from Wikipedia:

Martin is an American sitcom that aired for five seasons on Fox from August 27, 1992 to May 1, 1997.

… Set in Detroit, the series stars Martin Lawrence in the role of Martin Payne, a disc jockey with a girlfriend named Gina Waters. Martin works for the fictional radio station WZUP and later for local Public-access television station Channel 51. A common theme of the series is Martin’s selfish and free-spirited nature. Episodes often center on Martin’s inappropriate behaviors and incessant smart mouth towards his friends, neighbors, and whoever else finds themselves in his presence.

I haven’t found videos from Martin with the idiom in them, but early occurrences seem to have the full two-part form, with imperative main clause + reason clause, as in the example in NOAD above. Very quickly the idiom was truncated to the imperative alone, as in the 1995 Indianapolis Monthly cite above. Gary Martin’s Phrase Finder site has the full form in a 1996 citation and the truncated variant in 1998:

[Talk to the hand] appeared, like several other short, mildly intimidating phrases, in the USA in the 1990s. The first reference to it I can find is in this (otherwise unexplained) advertisement in the Wyoming newspaper, The Pinedale Roundup, in Oct, 1996.


It didn’t cross the Atlantic right away and the first reference outside the USA is in a piece by Oliver Bennett in The Times, May 1998. In this he recounts a trip to San Francisco and explains some local idioms:

“A contemporary favourite, if you don’t like what somebody is saying (a traffic warden, say) is to turn a palm forward and yell: ‘Talk to the hand.'”

It seems it wasn’t a universal favourite in the USA by then. That same month the Syracuse Herald Journal (New York) reported a vox pop piece that offered the opinion:

“I don’t know about you, but if I hear someone say ‘talk to the hand’ again I will strangle them with their own shoelaces.”

Other similar phrases from that period are ‘so sue me’, ‘get used to it’, ‘get over it’.

(The Phrase Finder entries make it clear that these other expressions had earlier histories as idioms, but that their use specifically as dismissive imperatives seems to have exploded in the 1990s.)

In the first decade of ths century you could still hear the full form occasionally, as in an episode from Da Ali G Show with “Yo speak to the hand coz the face (it) ain’t listening”, which you can watch here. Meanwhile, the truncated version occurs at least twice (in a gas station scene and a strip club scene) in Terminator 3 (2003).

Later, there are other, even more insulting, variants: Talk to the butt, and in Urban Dictionarytttbcthod ‘Talk to the booty  ’cause the hand’s off duty’.

The Match Game. From Wikipedia:

Match Game is an American television panel game show that premiered on NBC in 1962 and was revived several times over the course of the next few decades. The game featured contestants trying to come up with answers to fill-in-the-blank questions, with the object being to match answers given by celebrity panelists.

The Match Game in its original version ran on NBC’s daytime lineup from 1962 until 1969. The show returned with a significantly changed format in 1973 on CBS (also in daytime) and became a major success, with an expanded panel, larger cash payouts, and emphasis on humor.

This complex history continued, through name, format, and other changes, to 2016, and now into franchising around the world.

2 Responses to “Talking to the hand”

  1. Éamonn McManus Says:

    Parle à ma main (2006):

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