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Dab Hand

Definition: A practiced individual who is especially skilled at some activity.

Pronunciation: daab-hand


Modern British, originally (specifically) London English slang. “Hand”, obviously, means here to refer to “one who does”, and “dab” morphed slightly from its first usage as criminal lingo when it still just meant “an expert”.

As most linguistic phrases go, “dab hand” came to be through a dubious process of slang dissemination– When the common layman start to use a catchy phrase that was known formerly only in small, distinguishable minorities, it is purely human nature to want to unconsciously find synonyms to new terminology. Given that a “hand” and a “dab” are so close in meaning, it seems obvious that the two words would have linguistically crossed paths, eventually.

Why this word?

The thing that not only denotes respect and status in our society is also the thing that determines whether or not people have “use”.

An expertise in doing something, no matter how small or simple the perceived talent, seems to be the only thing that matters in whether or not we think of others as necessary, or worthy of living. Most people don’t realize they’ve been taught this attitude and when you explain the bare bones of its characteristics they feel horrified, and proclaim “Why, I’d never be so harsh!”– But throw out a hypothetical zombie apocalypse scenario at them, and add in that traveling in their group is a fellow survivor with a broken leg, and you’ll instantly get bombarded by a mountain of similar “Carry your own weight, or you’re going to get left behind” decisions coming from those same “I’d never be so heartless” people.

This is a harsh judgment to stamp onto any person, regardless of their personal circumstances, and many people believe that such judgments should only be done by a deity; a “higher being” with supposed envisioned clearer understanding that is not clouded by emotion or bias– ergo, not by an emotional, preferential human.

Both are valid reasons in their own rights, because for a human to judge another so harshly would place guilt onto the decisive person in question (and, the backbone of common philosophical morality has always been the avoidance of guilt rather than the choosing of Good/Evil, regardless of consequences), and to admit adherence to the idea of someone’s intrinsic worth being tied directly to whether or not they Can Do A Thing means that said same decisive person’s worth is only as valuable as their skills and ability to act on them, too.

The mentality of living worth being tied to abilities– and then, further: to specific, preferred abilities over others, in a society –creates a giant, gaping hole between those who claim all life to be precious (either due to a personal faith or simply by perception), and those who feel the “betterment/perpetuation of the species” is only as viable as the offered talents or bodily usefulness of the species members involved. Those who fall into this “hole” are the physically disabled, the elderly, the far too young and therefore inexperienced, and the mentally deficient. For those who say all people are people, and thus should be allowed happiness and a right to live regardless of obstacles, those who claim only able-bodied and healthy people should “be accepted as people” could make a case for those said exceptions being made the responsibility of the religious, instead of their governments (which, mind, were created to serve societies of people in the first place.)

(And then whacked-out ideas like eugenics and personhood get introduced, and everyone forgets how to communicate and subsequently loses their goddamned minds.)

Bottom line: It’s nice to be useful and to have talents on offer to help or entertain others– But, whether or not you can dance or sing or paint or cook or build a house does not determine whether or not you should have the right to be alive.

How to use the word dab hand in a sentence?

Example: She rifled through her brother’s briefcase and papers and ledgers, and that little black book he thought she didn’t know about, and discovered that her dear elder sibling wasn’t just some lauded, trusted bureaucratic dab hand– He also seemed to be slowly taking over the world. Like an innocuous, plain spider quietly weaving threads from this pie to that pie, laying them in such a way that would settle him comfortably in the middle where every resonance would be felt by him, first.


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Written by Veronica Jacobs

Veronica Jacobs is a fiction writer, blogger, academic editor, and sci-fi enthusiast. Currently working freelance (with a background in English Literature), she spends most of her time writing.


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