I search on Google images for "folded hands", and it gives me pictures like this:

enter image description here

and this:

enter image description here

which I have no problem with.

However, it also gives a lot of pictures like this one:

enter image description here

which I don't understand why should be called folded.
Do people really call this position of the hands 'folded'? And can I ask why?

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    This native AmE speaker would only refer to the middle picture as folded hands. The first set of hands are clenched or clasped. The third set are cupped in prayer. – Adam Apr 26 '16 at 4:42
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    The last picture reminds me, strongly, of Añjali Mudrā, which is a hand gesture that is well-known around South and Southeast Asia. In my opinion, press/put your palms together is probably the best way to describe it. – Damkerng T. Apr 26 '16 at 5:01
  • I'm a native English speaker and this turn of phrase has never made sense to me. – MikeTheLiar Apr 26 '16 at 13:29
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    @Adam - I would use clasped for either of the first 2 pictures. Clenched to me would imply the same 2 hand positions, but with a tighter grip. Clenched could also be used for just one hand, i.e. a "clenched fist". Clasped also works best if one of the hands is somebody else's. I agree that folded would only apply to the middle one. – Darrel Hoffman Apr 26 '16 at 14:48
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    Note to the OP: All these comments are opinion and should be taken with a grain of salt. Obviously, even native English speakers don't often agree on exactly what words mean. – Era Apr 26 '16 at 15:07

They may not be folded in the literal sense of the word, but they are called folded by some people:

fold your hands:
to bring or hold your hands together
- She kept her hands folded in her lap.

As to why, I can guess, but I'm not sure.

However, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English and Oxford Learner's Dictionaries (AmE) give more specific definitions, which may not match the last image.

fold your hands:

put them together and rest them on something

(from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English)

to bring or hold your hands together with the fingers bent

(from Oxford Learner's Dictionaries (AmE))

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    @VarunKN - I'm guessing that Færd grew interested in this, did some research and found an answer, but still thought it was interesting enough to post as a question. Incidentally, SE has always considered that to be a good thing. – J.R. Apr 26 '16 at 9:06

All three pictures depict folded hands in a general sense. NOAD defines this expression as:

fold one's hands bring or hold one's hands together

although some dictionaries (such as TFD) are more specific:

fold (verb) (tr) to bring together and intertwine (the arms, legs, etc) : she folded her hands.

That said, I don't think intertwined fingers are required to use the expression.

Because folded hands are a relatively common gesture during prayer, I think there is a generous overlap between folded hands and praying hands. In a book entitled Fantastic Vocation!, Joseph Miksch wrote (the picture shown below is used in the original):

enter image description here

Other writers give a more practical reason; in his book entitled Learning to Pray, Den Slattery said that when his wife teaches children to pray, "they should fold their hands so they aren't tempted to tickle their neighbor."

Regardless of why praying people put their hands together, my point is that any time hands are pressed or clasped together in a prayer-like gesture, we could probably use the term "folded hands" to describe them – even if the person is simply relaxing on a sofa.

I did a Google image search; interestingly enough, all of these pictures had the phrase with folded hands somewhere in their caption.

enter image description here

  • Now I'm confused which answer to mark as accepted. Thanks. And to add an image to your list, the reason why I asked this question was that I'd come across this expression somewhere in a book: folded his hands into a shape like the top of a tepee, which would be like this. – Færd Apr 26 '16 at 13:11

If you pretend that your hands are pages of a book and hold them palms-up, the hands can be considered to be open. Googling for "open hands" images will show many more such pictures.

If you now mime the action of folding the book shut, you can be said to fold your hands.

Fold verb 1 Bend (something flexible and relatively flat) over on itself so that one part of it covers another - ODO

Your first two pictures might be better termed clasped hands, though there is some latitude to the term folded hands, as you have observed.

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    'Fold' a book shut? That sounds unnatural to me. Ngram? – Mitch Apr 26 '16 at 11:42
  • @Mitch Here you go. Folded book gathered more hits than shutter the windows, though unsurprisingly fewer than close the book. (cont'd) – Lawrence Apr 26 '16 at 12:22
  • (cont'd) Here's an example of the use of folded book to mean one that is in a closed state. – Lawrence Apr 26 '16 at 12:22
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    @Mitch Besides, I'm not arguing for 'folding shut' to be idiomatic; it's just illustrative of the action. – Lawrence Apr 26 '16 at 12:25
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    @Lawrence Thanks. Got it. Sometimes when phrases are pointed out out of context they sound strange when in context they're perfectly natural. – Mitch Apr 26 '16 at 13:23

As Adam commented, I would say "locked" or "clenched" hands for the first picture. To use "interlocked" would sound more clear than "locked". To lock means:

Make or become rigidly fixed or immovable: 'he locked his hands behind her neck'

For the third picture, "hands placed (put) together for prayer" would be more idiomatic than folded hands.

To fold basically means to bend or to cover or wrap something in and the third picture doesn't show any part of a hand folded.

"She kept her hands folded in her lap." could be interpreted as the following picture.

enter image description here

Note: When you Google images for "locked hands", there are pictures of various hands including handcuffed (or chained) hands. It is not easy to tell which image is described by just reading a word or phrase .

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    I'd say all three of the O.P.'s pictures depict various versions of folded hands. The verb fold is often used in conjunction with prayer, so just about any clasped or pressed-together hands might be regarded as folded, whether the fingers are interlocked or not. NOAD defines the idiom fold one's hands to mean "bring or hold one's hands together." – J.R. Apr 26 '16 at 9:18

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