Does "your hand closes over your fist below it" mean the hand is directly on top of the fist in the following definition for “hand over fist”? Thank you!

Hand over fist meant climbing a rope by hand on board a sailing ship. As you reach up, your hand closes over your fist below it."

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    Aside: the idiom hand over fist derives from the rapid way that a rope can be climbed. The literal method applies to hauling in a rope horizontally as well as climbing it. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 18:53
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    When climbing a rope, "hand over fist" just means that when you're holding your weight by one hand firmly grasping the rope (forming a "fist" around it), you pull yourself up by grasping the rope with your other hand further up the rope, over / past / higher than the first hand. It wouldn't make sense to grasp the fist itself - you wouldn't be able to move upwards. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 18:53
  • That doesn't sound like a fast way to climb a rope. Pulling a rope in makes more sense, and the analogy for the main use of the phrase (grabbing money as fast as possible) lines up better with that. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 22:07

2 Answers 2


It does not mean that your hand literally closes over your fist, only that your hand is above your fist. This picture might help. The person's hand is closing above their already-closed fist.

I don't think that the definition you quoted is very well-written, because "your hand closes over your fist below it" is ambiguous, as you have found.

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Imagine you're holding a rope tightly with one hand so it makes a fist. Now, imagine putting your other hand around the rope above your fist, but rather than closing your hand just on the rope, you close it around your fist. Now you've got your first hand just holding the rope, and your second hand partly holding the rope, but mostly wrapped around your first hand's fist.

Now, I have some experience with rope, and this to me seems like a pretty useless thing to do with rope, and you're far better off putting two fists entirely on the rope right next to each other -- watch any tug-of-war competition. That tells me either the writers there have made a writing mistake, or they don't know what they're talking about

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    They're talking about climbing up a rope. You can't do that well by putting your hands together.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 15:24
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    @Barmar Agreed. That's what my second paragraph is about. My first paragraph describes the literal meaning of the words quoted, which IMO are badly written.
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 16:13

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