What does the idiom "like the back of one's hand" mean?

You are wondering about the meaning of the phrase like the back of one's hand, maybe you heard it in a TV show, movie or theater play. Although this idiom is not used very often, it enriches your capacity of expression and strengthens communication. In which case is the expression like the back of one's hand used and what is its meaning?

Meaning of "like the back of one's hand"


The phrase “like the back of one’s hand” is an idiomatic expression used to denote something that a person is very familiar with. It suggests a level of knowledge and understanding that is deep and comprehensive, and could even be called intimate. This is a phrase that can be used to talk about physical places, as well as more abstract concepts, such as the ins and outs of a particular activity or profession.


The expression “like the back of one’s hand” is believed to have originated in England in the late 16th or early 17th century. The phrase is thought to have been derived from the proverb “to know one’s way about as if one had the palms of their hands on the wall.” This proverb referred to the idea of navigation; for example, it was common for people to navigate through a building by feeling the walls with the palms of their hand, as if they knew the layout of the building like the back of their hand. Over time, the phrase was shortened to “like the back of one’s hand.”


This expression is frequently used in informal contexts and is most commonly heard in everyday conversation. It can be used to emphasize the level of knowledge and familiarity a person has with a subject, particularly when a situation or location needs no additional explanation. Additionally, this expression can be used to show that a person has a lot of experience or in-depth knowledge of something.

Example Sentences

  • My grandfather knows this town like the back of his hand - he's lived here most of his life.
  • I'm an electrician, and I know my way around wiring like the back of my hand.
  • After working at the restaurant for five years, I know the menu like the back of my hand.

The meanings of the words in the "like the back of one's hand" idiom

The Surprising Origins of Everyday English Idioms

Many English idioms have surprisingly dark origins, often rooted in violence, death, and superstition. For instance, the phrase "raining cats and dogs" is said to have originated in the 17th century, when heavy rain would often cause dead animals to wash up on the streets. Meanwhile, the idiom "rule of thumb" is believed to have originated from a law that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb.


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