I'm editing a manuscript which takes place in 1854 Britain. I've run across two uses of "on another hand" used in place of "on the other hand."

Is this proper vernacular for the era or should I edit it?

In both instances, coincidentally, the person is actually holding something in their other hand, but I do not believe that's the reason for the wording.

  • 9
    How many hands do they have??
    – Jim
    Oct 1, 2016 at 20:48
  • 3
    I expect that it is a case of trying to extend a metaphor past its useful point. When there are two points of view “on one hand and on the other hand” works but a third position would require a third hand...
    – Jim
    Oct 1, 2016 at 20:51
  • 4
    @Jim that would be on the gripping hand.
    – 1006a
    Oct 1, 2016 at 21:44
  • Lol! I'm sorry. Perhaps I was not clear in my post. They are holding something in one hand, state something, then say, "on another hand" afterwardsin the sentence as part of the text. Therefore, I do not believe that the fact they are holding something is part of the reason they are using the wording they use.
    – Lisa
    Oct 1, 2016 at 23:45
  • On the other hand, more fingers.
    – wim
    Oct 2, 2016 at 3:57

2 Answers 2


One contemporary example is from the Public Lands Debates of the US Senate on 23 February 1830 by a Mr Woodbury of New Hampshire. The whole speech must have taken most of a day to deliver.

On one hand here, these last have been alluded to, as if mere worshippers of a rising sun, and for that manufactured into democrats dyed in the wool, from the very doors of the Hartford Convention. On another hand, jeered as if democratic only for an adherence to Southern men, and tainted as being small in number, and diminutive in importance. On another hand, stigmatized as Judases and apostates, from the true New England faith, ...

However, this supports Jim's comment on the question that it is introducing three separate positions.

Another example is from Issue 47 of The Federalist from 1802:

One branch of the legislative department, forms also, a great constitutional council to the executive chief; as on another hand, it is the sole depository of judicial power in cases of impeachment ...

In this instance, there are only two "hands" to speak of, but the author still uses an indefinite form.

Given that these examples are American, from the first half of the nineteenth century, and there are so few to find, I think I would counsel against using this form in the Britain of the 1850s.

  • To my British ears this sounds a bit like the "First of all..., second of all..." form which I don't believe British people ever use. We do use "First of all..." but then go on to "secondly" and so on. "On another hand..." doesn't sound familiar. I wonder if it comes from a European language and found its way into American speech by direct translation, a bit like "hopefully" from "hoffentlich", but unlike "hopefully" never took off generally.
    – BoldBen
    Oct 1, 2016 at 21:50
  • We have to careful with the journals of the houses of the US Congress. Are the contents transcribed from actual speeches on the floor or inserted unspoken as written material? It's hard to tell. The Federalist Papers, on the other hand, were published under pseudonyms. The Ngram viewer finds many instances of on another without a preceding on the one. All the OED meanings are obviously anatomically based, but I can play more than two hands of whist and be on hand more than twice.
    – deadrat
    Oct 1, 2016 at 22:53
  • This manuscript is historical fiction, taking place during the Crimean war ,& the battle of Balaclava It's a 400 page manuscript, And I'm well past halfway at this point. I think your answer and the other giving examples are very informative, and at this point I will point these out to the publisher I work for and ask them to decide. If the author is one who reviews our edits, we will then refer her to the responses. Frankly, from a readers POV, I believe she should change it. It does not lend enough authenticity to the era to leave it as is.
    – Lisa
    Oct 1, 2016 at 23:56
  • @deadrat Whether or not the speeches were actually spoken, it is an example of usage from the time. If written, it would read oddly if the phrase did not occur in people's speech. But I could not find many examples of "on another hand" where there was a "first" hand, accurately dated from the time in question.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 2, 2016 at 8:27
  • @AndrewLeach My point is that if it's a transcription, it could be an error from the scribe mishearing when he's writing phonetically. Which wouldn't tell us much about occurrence in regular speech.
    – deadrat
    Oct 2, 2016 at 8:45

The Oxford English Dictionary deals, under the meaning of hand, with prepositional phrases associated with it. And there are literally dozens of them. It categorises them by the particular preposition included with the word hand, category a) being those associated with at, b) being those with by c) being for one's own etc.

Category i) deals with phrases involving on with hand, and there are many of those. They are further sub-divided into a number of sub-categories. I believe that category i), sub-categories d,e,f,and g deal with the matter you have raised in your question - or at least have some bearing upon it.

In order to illustrate the extent of the Pandora's box opened up by the question I will list those sub-category meanings with some examples:

(d) on all hands (also on every hand): on all sides, in all directions, to or from all quarters

Examples are available from 1540, but the most recent one is:

1990 G. Gilder Life after Television (1992) 22 33 Contrary to the rich and variegated promise of new technology proliferating options on every hand, TV squeezes the consciousness of an entire nation.

this first one d) is not directly related to your question, but see e) below:

(e) on (the) one hand (also †on one hand): used to introduce a point of view, fact, case, etc., followed by another which (typically) contrasts with it, introduced by on the other (hand). on the other hand: used to introduce a contrasting point of view, fact, case, etc., typically following another introduced by on (the) one hand.

e) is the straightforward on the one hand..., on the other hand... to which you refer. There are examples from 1581, this being the most recent:

2011 Independent 17 Mar. (Viewspaper section) 2/3 The OBR's forecast implies relatively strong job creation. The OECD's, on the other hand, implies continued misery for hundreds of thousands.

f) deals with on either hand - still recognising that most people have only two hands.

†(f) on either hand: on either side, in either case (now rare). Also †on some hands (also †on this hand): in some cases, in this case (obs.).

1999 P. R. Brenner in J. D. Davidson & K. J. Doka Living with Grief vii. 87 This new model must transcend the either/or alternatives that drive practice to extremes on either hand.

Finally g) deals with on any hand.

(g) on (also †upon) any hand: on any account, in any case; cf. at any hand at Phrases 1a(g).

Examples date from 1600, the most recent:

2010 A. Vladimirov et al. Assessing Information Security i. 41 On any hand, it is clearly required to verify both completeness and correctness of any follow-up reaction to its predecessor.

So in answer to your question, whilst I cannot find any OED examples which specifically refer to another hand, the fact is that this expression is both historically and currently variegated. And many examples exist at d) and g) which seem to go beyond the recognition of there being only two hands available. It would seem therefore that you would not be departing too far from accepted precedent by employing the term another hand.

Indeed Oxford English Dictionary may be glad to hear from you about the another hand examples which you have turned up.

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