What is the meaning and origin of this idiom?

Internet searches are confounded by the many headlines and jokes that allude to the phrase superficially (e.g., “repetitive strain injury – it's all in the wrist”).

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    @kristina lopez In all fairness, I did google it (in Canada) out of curiosity but there's nothing about the origin of the expression or its meaning in the ten first result pages. Most of the hit were for the game Hitman.
    – P. O.
    May 7, 2013 at 16:45
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    @Mitch No, there's definitely an idiom here, sometimes used metaphorically, sometimes facetiously: It's how an expert explains a particular nuance of skill. May 8, 2013 at 0:11
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    @KristinaLopez There's definitely a lot of noise out there – references to carpal tunnel syndrome, business names, song lyrics, joysticks, piloting aircraft, most of them making a weak joke based on the idiom. I haven't had any luck tracking down an origin. It seems like the sort of thing that originated in a joke or in sports coaching (or both). May 8, 2013 at 0:14
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    @BraddSzonye, I'd imagine it would be a tennis, golf or baseball reference, maybe even fishing. There's definitely a tongue-in-cheek quality to it, implying, IMO, that something that looks difficult is easy if you master the nuance of the wrist action. Can't wait to find out the origin...I'm really curious now! :-) May 8, 2013 at 0:29
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    @KristinaLopez This list of movie quotes has examples dating back to the 1940s, including “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), so it's been around for a while at least. No luck finding an origin yet. May 8, 2013 at 0:39

4 Answers 4


The earliest reference I found was about tennis in 1898, but the importance of using the wrist to control a movement instead of placing all bets on the strength of the arm predates it by at least a hundred years in fencing.

Basically, although it might not be an "official" idiom you'd find in a reference book, I've seen it constantly used to mean – metaphorically or literally – that you can achieve your result using less strength but more control.

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    I've also seen it used metaphorically (and perhaps facetiously) as a way to declare mastery. For example: “Whoa, how'd you get that woman's phone number?” “It's all in the wrist!” May 10, 2013 at 19:27

It's cliche' sports advice that dads and coaches give when mentoring young athletes... "keep your eye on the ball" and "it's all in the wrist" are sort of the "tastes like chicken" of sports advice.

Want to hit that home run? Just remember, 'It's all in the wrist'. Want to become better at tennis? Just remember, 'It's all in the wrist'. Trying to toss that perfect pitch?
You know the deal -- It's all in the wrist.


In the absence of any clear reference you might never know for sure, but I'd say there's a good chance that it originated with fly fishing. The technique for properly casting the lure requires skillful wrist action.

Another possible origin I can think of is Bowling, but I'd give more weight to fly fishing because of its age.


In the Hungarian language they say csuklobol which means from the wrist! In English it is in the wrist, but both mean the same thing. It is a way of saying or declaring that someone is a master at something. They are so good at whatever that they make it look easy. They can whip or just shake it out right out of their wrists.

Everyone has something that they can master.

  • A handle all for this one post? Niiice :)
    – Kris
    Dec 2, 2013 at 10:09

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