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Could you help me to do a syntax analysis of this sentence?

When would one use the expression the more you squeeze, the more sand trickles through your fingers? I just heard it on Washington Journal used to describe a political strategy, but I would like to know if it can be used for more day-to-day situations.

  • The above link also demonstrates examples of everyday use.
    – Robusto
    Apr 1, 2012 at 14:26
  • I'm no materials scientist, but I'd have thought in the real world it's actually the other way around. I imagine a (largish) hypodermic syringe filled with sand, held point down with no needle fitted. The sand will flow down as it does in an egg-timer. Pushing the plunger down hard would compact the sand, and my gut instinct tells me it would then cease to flow out the other end. Apr 1, 2012 at 19:31

2 Answers 2


It's referring to an analogy or parable. Say you had an item that was solid - a book, or an apple, or a baseball. If you didn't want to lose it, you would hold onto to it tight. Some other possessions don't work that way. If you have a handful of sand or water, you need to cup your hands loosely in order to keep it. If you squeeze them into fists, you'll actually lose possession of your valuable sand or water. If conditions become threatening to your possession (it gets windy, say) you can't just hold on tighter. Even though that works for some things, it doesn't work for sand or water.

Some people apply this analogy to money. When companies squeeze on to their money tighter by cutting back budgets, demanding more paperwork, installing timeclocks to be sure everyone is working enough, and so on, they often lose more money than before they did all that. Once you've established that money in a company acts more like sand or water in your hands than like an apple in your hands, you can just refer back to the analogy without having to give the long explanation of why expenses would go up when you started cutting back budgets, or people would produce less when you demanded they prove they are working more hours, and so on. That explanation is long and perhaps not everyone agrees with it. The image of sand or water dribbling out of your grasp while you desperately try to hold it, that will get you nods of agreement and typically also an emotional response.


I don't know if this counts as everyday use, but:

Governor Tarkin: Princess Leia, before your execution, I'd like you to join me for a ceremony that will make this battle station operational. No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now.

Princess Leia: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

(from *Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope*)

  • I think I could have used it a few times myself in interstellar negotiations, yes! :-)
    – 719016
    Apr 1, 2012 at 18:46

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