EnBooo Podcast

Episode 111 • Hands


My hands are tied

Have your hands full

Not lift a finger

Twiddle your thumbs

Can't put your finger on it


[Phone ringing]
Mary: Hi Jimmy.
Jimmy: Hello, Mary. I called your husband but he won’t pick up. Any news on that lot?
Mary: I’m sorry, Jimmy. We can’t sell it yet. The bank won’t let us. We wish we could help you but our hands are tied.
Jimmy: Oh, no worries. I’ll find a way. How’s it going by the way?
Mary: Oh, you know. Good, good. Just over here working in the field as every summer.
Jimmy: You keeping busy or what?
Mary: Well, you know me. I always got my hands full, I’ve got a business to run, plus we’re redoing the house… oh, and my grandson’s here for the summer.
Jimmy: Oh, nice. Jack is there? Wait, was it Jack?
Mary: It’s Jacob. Yeah, he’s here alright. He’ll be spending the summer with me. Only I wish he would help his grandma. But no, he’s just sitting out there in the middle of the tomato field doing heaven knows what! He can see me working here and yet he sits there without lifting a finger.
Jimmy: Oh, come on, Mary, he’s a kid.
Mary: Listen, when I was his age, I couldn’t spend my summers twiddling my thumbs, my dad would’ve never let me. If I wasn’t working, I had to study and when I was done studying, I had to help him with the farm. I’m telling you! If I were his mother… but you know. I’m just his grandma. Unbelievable… kids these days… I mean, he did help me the first few days he was here. I guess he’s done now…
Jimmy: Maybe he’s not feeling well or something.
Mary: Well, now that you mention it… there is something strange about him today. I can’t put my finger on it but yeah, he doesn’t look alright. I mean, he hasn’t moved all morning, maybe I should go check on-
Jacob: Hey grandma, I’m done with the chickens, do you want me to clean the barn?
Mary: Ja- Jacob? What-? If you’re here, then who’s that?
Jacob: Grandma, that’s a scarecrow. It’s been there all summer.
Mary: Oh Lord!


All right. I don't really know how believable that story was, but at least now we can learn some new expressions that have to do with our hands.

My hands are tied

'We wish we could help you, but our hands are tied.'

• If you say that your hands are tied, does that mean you want to help someone or not?

Yes, if you say that your hands are tied, that means that you do want to help someone.

• And if you say that your hands are tied, can you help someone or not?

No, here's the thing, when you say that your hands are tied, that means that you want to help someone, you wish you could do something for them, but you can't.

• Why? Because you don’t want to or because you can’t?

When you say that your hands are tied, you are really saying that you wish you could help them, but there's something preventing you from helping them. It's usually some sort of rule maybe, some sort of law that says that you cannot help them. I'm going to give you an example. Say that I am your teacher. You didn't do too well on your test. You come to me, and you ask me, "Is there anything that you can do? Is there anything that you can do to help me pass this test?" I'm going to say, "Well, you know what? I really wish I could help you, but my hands are tied." Meaning, I wish I could help you, but I really can't do anything because there would be consequences. This can be, I don't know, I could get fired, we could both get in trouble, these types of things. There are some rules out there. There's something that's outside of my control that's making it impossible for me to help you.

• Was there a time when you wanted to help someone but you couldn't because your hands were tied?

Yes, well, as you know, I'm an English teacher. Three years ago, I was teaching in a school here in Valencia, and I was teaching a group of little kids. We're talking eight, nine-year-olds. There was this one kid, Victor, I think I've already mentioned him before. He was just so cute. Not at first. At first, he wasn't behaving, but then we became friends. He was a lot nicer, and it was just adorable. He was really smart, but I knew that he struggled during tests. I knew he got really nervous. I remember this one time, he was taking a test. He was getting distracted, and he couldn't focus on some of the questions. I felt so bad because I knew he was struggling, and I wanted to help him so bad, but obviously, my hands were tied. I couldn't do anything to help him. He didn't do too bad on that test, but he was still a little upset when he saw his grade, and I had to comfort him. I had to reassure him, tell him that he was really smart and that grades weren't all that important, but I really wish I could have helped him, but obviously, like I said, my hands were tied. It wouldn't have been fair to the other kids, plus, there are rules in place for these kinds of things.

Have your hands full

'I always got my hands full'

• If your hands are full, are you very busy or are you bored?

If your hands are full, you are very busy. In fact, you are so busy that you basically have no time for anything else.

• Who do you think is more likely to have her hands full? A mom of four or a teenage girl?

Well, obviously, it depends. We don't know what kind of life this teenage girl has, but I would definitely assume that a mom of four would have her hands full. Taking care of four kids, that can't be easy. I don't even know how people can take care of one, to be honest with you, so a mom of four would definitely have her hands full.

• Are you hands full at the moment?

Yes, I think my hands are pretty full at the moment, actually. I don't have any kids, so that's not why, but I really try to do the best that I can with my job to put out good content, and I'm always coming up with new ideas, working on multiple projects at the same time. Right now, I think I'm working on maybe three, four different projects at the same time. Plus, I have my part-time job, so I definitely got my hands full right now.

Not lift a finger

'...he sits there without lifting a finger.'

• If you don’t lift a finger, do you help someone who needs help or not?

No, if you don't lift a finger, you are not helping someone who needs help. You see them, they may be struggling with something, you maybe could see that they need your help, but if you don't lift a finger, you are not doing absolutely anything to help them.

• When do you often use this expression? To thank someone or to complain about someone?

What do you think? It's definitely to complain about someone. You may be struggling with something. It's obvious that you need someone's help, yet the people that are around you are not lifting a finger, so you can either tell them directly and be like, "Hey, I needed your help, and you haven't even lifted a finger," or you could complain about that type of behavior later.

• Was there a time when you needed help and nobody lifted a finger?

Yes, there was this one time when I was flying, and I was traveling by myself. As per usual, I had my backpack. I usually only travel with a backpack, so I don't have to worry about checking in any luggage. The problem with that is that obviously, I have to carry it with me onto the plane, and then I have to put it in the overhead compartment, and it's not that easy for me. I am really short. I am 5 feet, so lifting this super heavy thing, and just lifting it just even above my head is a challenge. Oh, and by the way, I just get really stressed out because then it's really easy for a line to form, and I don't want to be keeping anybody waiting, so I hate that part. I'm always hoping there's somebody tall enough around me that I can ask for help. This one time, I was struggling. I was trying to put this thing away, and there was a flight attendant right next to me, and he did not lift a finger. I was just like, "Isn't this part of your job?" I don't know. Maybe he was distracted, I don't know, but in the end, I ended up asking him, like being, "Could you give me a little help here?" He did, but at first, he didn't lift a finger.

Twiddle your thumbs

'I couldn’t spend my summers twiddling my thumbs…'

• Literally speaking, if you are twiddling your thumbs, what are you doing with them? Shaking them or rotating them around each other?

If you are twiddling your thumbs, literally speaking, you are rotating them around each other. The rest of your fingers would be crossed, and then your thumbs would be rotating around each other.

• When you say that someone is twiddling their thumbs, what is that person actually doing? Are they very busy or not?

No, when you say that someone is twiddling their thumbs, that means that they are not busy at all. They are doing nothing. They're probably super bored, and they got nothing better to do, so they just start twiddling their thumbs.

• Do you ever twiddle your thumbs while waiting?

No, I don't know if it's something that I don't do, but I personally don't know anybody that twiddles their thumbs while waiting. I don't know if it's something that people used to do in the past. I think now nobody gets bored. I shouldn't say, we do get bored, but it's just, we have so many distractions that it's almost impossible to have nothing to do to the point where the most entertaining thing that we could do is twiddling our thumbs. Plus, we always have our phones in our hands, so we wouldn't even have two thumbs that we could twiddle. We could have one, but you can't do much with one, so no. Definitely, I don't twiddle my thumbs. Actually, now that I think of it, I think the modern version of twiddling our thumbs is probably watching TikToks.

Can’t put my finger on it

'I can’t put my finger on it but yeah, he doesn’t look alright.'

• When is the expression “I can’t put my finger on it” used? When you are certain about something or not?

You use the expression "I can't put my finger on it" when you are not certain about something. You have a feeling, you know that there's something different or that there is something strange about something, but you cannot understand exactly what it is. That's when you would say, "I can't put my finger on it." I can't understand exactly.

• Choose a situation in which you could use this expression. Situation 1: someone has dyed their hair and you realized it right away or situation 2: someone has dyed their hair, you realize there’s something different about them but you don’t know what it is.

It's definitely situation number two. You see someone, they've dyed their hair, you don't know this, you look at them and think, "There's something different about you. I can't put my finger on it, but I can see that there's something that's unusual about you," and you can't quite tell. In that case, yes, you would say, "I can't put my finger on it."

• Did something ever happen to you that made you say “I can’t put my finger on it”?

I think that at least I think this quite often because, especially when I design a post, or when I design a new webpage or something, a lot of times, I think, I look at what I'm designing and think, "I don't like this, but I don't know why. I can't put my finger on it, but there's just something that I don't like about this page or this post." It happens to me quite often. Sometimes I figure out what it is, and some other times, I don't.

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