from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. The ever-present, oppressive influence of past events: "Psychotherapy explores the ways in which the past has shaped people, and how its dead hand continues to deform their lives” ( James S. Gordon).
  • n. Mortmain.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. a hand that can not alienate, as of a person civilly dead.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Same as mortmain.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. real property held inalienably (as by an ecclesiastical corporation)
  • n. the oppressive influence of past events or decisions


Middle English dede hond, translation of Old French mortemain or Medieval Latin manus mortua, mortmain.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)


  • As heavy as lead and as loud as ever the dead hand had struck them out, in the empty hall beyond the curtain, thumped the three chords of Miss Campanula’s “Prelude.”

    Overture to Death

  • When a shooting goes bad and the suspect is on the ground with his dead hand open and a set of car keys falls from his palm rather than the pocket-size automatic you thought you saw, either you can tell the truth at an Internal Affairs inquiry and be hung out to dry on a meat hook, perhaps even do serious time in a mainline joint with the same people you put there, or you can untape the drop from your ankle, wipe it with a handkerchief, throw it on the corpse, and ask God to look in the other direction.

    Jolie Blon’s Bounce

  • - but every time she yields to it she is halted and plucked back by qualms and doubts, by the dominant superstitions of her race and time, by the dead hand of her kirk-crazy Scotch forebears.

    Prejudices : first series,

  • Preston shot McCarrick point-blank in the face, then dragged the body over to the panel and slapped McCarrick’s dead hand onto the scanner pad.

    Time Was


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • "The ever-present, oppressive influence of past events"

    July 7, 2011