Putty in one’s hands is an idiom. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common saying putty in one’s hands, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Putty in one’s hands is an idiom that describes someone who is easily manipulated, someone who is easily influenced or controlled. The expression may be rendered as a metaphor, as in he is putty in my hands, or as a simile, as in he is like putty in my hands. The expression putty in one’s hands came into popular use in the 1920s but its use skyrocketed at the end of the twentieth century. Putty is a glazing compound that is most often used to seal window panes; it is easily moldable. Putty is a mixture of finely ground chalk and linseed oil.

Examples

“I wooed her for months, she didn’t want to know but when I took her to see a punk band she was putty in my hands.” (Belfast Telegraph)

“So when people returned my hate with hate of their own, they were literally putty in my hands.” (Daily Nebraskan)

Finally, if I say “You were right and I was wrong “ a few times, she’s like putty in my hands. (Naples Daily News)



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