Why are the hands of a clock called hands? To me, this makes little sense; they do not resemble hands in any way, and if anything body-part related, they should be arms. So why are they called hands?

  • Why not also report what you get from Google on the question?
    – GEdgar
    Oct 19 '11 at 0:05
  • @GEdgar I get some unrelated pages, and a Yahoo! Answers that I don't trust.
    – user11550
    Oct 19 '11 at 0:21
  • Perhaps it is because there are five minute increments between numbers on a clock and there are five fingers on each hand.
    – user48827
    Jul 30 '13 at 21:55
  • Because they had to use some word. I personally would have used EXTINCTIONSPECTROPHOTOPOLERISCOPEOCCULOGRAVOGYROKYNETOMETER, but no one asked me.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 28 '14 at 15:14
  • They're more like hands than like guts. Which is what all the gears and such don't look much like either.
    – Mitch
    Dec 28 '14 at 21:56

They do resemble pointing hands; especially the classic style of hour hand. Yes, they're thinner than human hands, but they point:

Etymonline says this usage of hand is over 400 years old:

Clock and watch sense is from 1570s.

Other than that, I don't think anyone can explain just why clockmakers chose hand instead of arm, or even finger. The point is that they point, like a hand.

  • Fair enough, I suppose.
    – user11550
    Oct 19 '11 at 0:29
  • You might just as well ask why a clock's dial is called its 'face'. Or, indeed, why the human face is called 'a clock'. Oct 19 '11 at 6:40
  • Clocks originally had only an hour hand, and maybe the original hour hand did look more like a hand, like the one in the picture. So that's probably where hand came from; when minute and second hands were added, they took on the same name, though thinner shapes.
    – Daniel
    Oct 19 '11 at 18:17
  • You guys must have some strange looking hands :)
    – Mynamite
    Aug 22 '13 at 20:41
  • I don't know if this is related, but a friend told me a fact today that might be relevant. If you put out your arm and put your hand horizontally (so your fingers are parallel to the horizon), then you can fit roughly twelve hands across the the sky. Together with the fact that old clocks only had hour hands, I wonder whether there is some connection. Jan 18 '15 at 16:21

Human hands can be used as a sundial, dividing daytime into 12 equal "hours." You have to go outside to do this: Strerch one arm straight out in front of you. Hold your fingers straight and fold your wrist in at a 90 degree angle. Now raise or lower your hand until your pinky appears to just touch the horizon. Now take the other hand and "stack" it on the first. Then move the first hand and stack it on the second. Continue alternating hands in this manner, and you will find that it takes about six hands to go from horizon to directly overhead. So... six hands up and then six hours down divides the daytime onto 12 equal parts.

The concept of dividing daytime into 12 hours predates clocks. As does the concept of noon as well as, of course, the human hand. My guess is the pointers on the clock got their name from their being a timekeeping replacement for the human hand.

  • Dammit it's dark outside! I'll try tomorrow.
    – Mynamite
    Aug 22 '13 at 20:45

I am a Clock repair man, (or Horoligist) I cannot for the life of me understand how the phrase 'Clock hands' came to be. The time pointers always appear as fingers. I have yet to see any clock, watch etc that tells the time with pointers that resemble hands. If someone manufactured a clock that had hand-like pointers then it would look very strange indeed. So the origin of 'clock hands' is for anyone to interpret as desired. So be it.

  • 2
    An horologist who has never seen a Mickey Mouse watch? Today's your lucky day. However, please only post answers to the question at hand. This post does not seek to answer the question. Dec 28 '14 at 13:54
  • @MattЭллен - But even with a Mickey Mouse watch, it is Mickey's fingers that are pointing at the numerals... (BTW, as regards "please only post answers to the question at hand", I saw what you did there. :)
    – Erik Kowal
    Dec 28 '14 at 17:46
  • That would be the case with anything that uses a hand. Dec 29 '14 at 16:33