Word of the Day

human chain

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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a line which is formed by people holding hands with the purpose of helping someone or to give support

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The compound noun human chain is formed from the adjective ‘human’ and the noun ‘chain’. It was first used in the 18th century but the current meaning dates from the early 20th century.


The recent very windy weather did not deter people from visiting the coast and even swimming in the choppy seas, despite warnings from the coastguard that it was dangerous to do so. When a swimmer got into difficulties off Durdle Door beach in Dorset, concerned beachgoers formed a human chain to help pull him to safety. Such events are not uncommon, as the example given for our Open Dictionary entry below shows; the entry was submitted in 2014 and refers to a very similar incident. Durdle Door is a limestone arch in the sea that attracts many visitors throughout the year; it has already been the site of more than one tragic accident this year. If you want to submit a word or phrase to our Open Dictionary you can do so here.


Beachgoers have described the moment a human chain was formed and saved a man’s life when he got into difficulty in the sea.

When a female swimmer began to struggle, a group of beachgoers went to heroic lengths to save her by forming a human chain in dangerously tumultuous surf and pulling her to safety.
(Open Dictionary entry, 2014)

Related words

air-sea rescue, coastguard, emergency services, lifebuoy

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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