God only gave me two hands. The rest he gave to the Indians.

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Aug 4 18:07:36 UTC 2008

At 1:50 PM -0400 8/4/08, Charles Doyle wrote:
>"God only gave me two hands" (with various placements of "only" or
>"just") gets about 160 Google hits--not many, to be sure.  There are
>significantly more for "I only have two hands" (12,500), "I've only
>got two hands" (2,770), "I only got two hands" (450), etc.  Of
>course, not all of those instances are germain. Still, we can
>identify a set expression, which is often uttered as a retort to
>being urged to hurry at some manual task. The "Indians" part is
>probably an innovative addendum, without much occurrence in oral

My (non-religious) mother was fond of the "I only have/I've only got
two hands" version, with no mention of Indians of either type.  I'm
guessing a reference to those depictions of many-armed Hindu
god(desse)s, though.  (Which doesn't mean that I won't try out the
"God only gave me two hands; the rest he gave to the Indians" adage
at the poker table the next time my luck is running badly.)


>---- Original message ----
>>Date: Mon, 4 Aug 2008 13:16:32 -0400
>>From: Grant Barrett <gbarrett at WORLDNEWYORK.ORG>
>>Subject: Re: God only gave me two hands. The rest he gave
>>On Aug 4, 2008, at 12:58, Charles Doyle wrote:
>>>  Yes, like Mark, I'd say it's a proverb or catch phrase + a variable) coda.
>>Perhaps, but I've tried numerous searches in which I wildcarded the
>>nouns or verbs, or tried different, common ones, and others in
>>which I changed or wildcarded the pronouns, to no avail. I've also
>>tried stripping it down to the basics, taking it down the minimum
>>form in which any meaning is still retained.
>>For example, "two hands" is likely to be unchanged whatever form
>>this saying might have taken elsewhere, though perhaps "ten
>>fingers" or >"two arms" or "one body" might be possible.
>>For example, I've searched for the lord|almighty|jesus|holy
>>father|He in the place of "God," and
>>Injuns|heathens|pagans|natives|Native Americans in place of
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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