Hand To Mouth, living from

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Meaning of Idiom 'Live (from) Hand to Mouth'

To live from hand to mouth means to only have enough money to buy what only the utmost essentials that one presently needs; to have barely enough money to survive and no ability to save so that one is always on the verge of not having food, shelter, etc.; 1,2,3

Compare: To Not Have Two Pennies to Rub Together


This idiom is used with or without the preposition from as in they lived hand to mouth and they lived from hand to mouth. Other uses are possible without the verb live. For example: They had a hand to mouth existence.


"The Beverly Hillbillies is a television comedy about a poor mountain family that lived hand to mouth before finding oil on their land and moving to Beverly Hills."

"I was living from hand to mouth after I lost my job but after a few years I got back on my feet."


This idiom has been used since the 1500's but came again into popular American use during the Great Depression of the 1930's, a time where many people did not know how they would get their next meal. Whatever food was at hand was immediately eaten, thus the expression hand to mouth. 3,4

1. Brenner, Gail Abel. Webster's New World American Idioms Handbook. Wiley, 2003.
2. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.
3. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
4. Helterbran, Valeri R. Exploring Idioms: a Critical-Thinking Resource for Grades 4-8. Maupin House Pub., 2008.

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