Not difficult; easily. Something done with little effort.
Example: Charlie was asked to taste several cookies in a baking competition. Afterwards, he had to determine a winner. After trying all the samples from the contestants, Charlie felt that the chocolate chip cookie from contestant #3 was the best. In fact, he thought it beat the others hands down, meaning it was easily the best tasting cookie in the competition.
The Origin Of ‘Hands Down’
The origin of this phrase is believed to be from horse racing. Here’s why: During a race, the jockeys will have a firm grip on their horse’s reins. This helps with controlling the speed and direction of the horse. Towards the end of a race, if one of the racers find themselves out far ahead in front of the competition, it was no longer necessary to hold the reins with such a tight grip. So the rider might choose to relax his hold and lower his hands, confident that victory was only a few gallops away.
Thus, a rider winning ‘hands down’ meant the jockey’s victory was pretty much an easy guarantee. To go along with all of this, the earliest I could find this phrase in print is from the 19th century. It was used in relation to horse racing in several newspapers from this time. For example, in the Evening Herald, printed in London in 1861, there’s a detailed summary of a recent race that was given, and there’s a part from it that reads:
“Soon after rounding the turn into the straight, Marignan deprived Bannerdale of the lead, and won hands down by four lengths, half a length between the second and third.”
- A new fast food place opened up a few blocks away and so I went there to try their food. The cheeseburger I ordered was hands down the best I’ve eaten all year.
- After trying several vacuum cleaners and not being impressed, I decided to try one that my friend recommended me and it was hands down the greatest of the bunch
Note: The origins for many idioms and popular phrases are not known. Looking back through history, it’s tough to find the place or person in which a phrase has its roots. We are limited to what can be found in writings, such as books, poems, newspapers, and plays. Often times, phrases will be quoted from century old newspapers or books.