Wednesday 29 February 2012

Some Handsome Hand

Sometimes, the original meaning of a word is so bloody obvious that you can't believe that you don't use it that way any more. Such a word is handsome, which apparently is as it does - a phrase I have never understood. When you realise that handsome used to be a synonym for handy, it seems obvious.

Something that is hand-some is, or was back in the fifteenth century, suitable for the hands. It was easily handle-able. It was conveniently to hand. It was handy.

From convenient it was a short shift in meaning to appropriate. And because a large reward is always felt to be an appropriate one, handsome then started to mean big - a meaning we still use in phrases like "He was handsomely rewarded."

And then, from the sense of being a good size, you got the modern meaning of human, usually male, beauty.

Mind you, this may not be the case in America. Certainly, in the C19th an Englishman could still observe that on the far side of the Pond:

A writer is styled ‘a very handsome author’, meaning a good and clever one, and quite irrespective of his appearance, which may be the reverse of comely.

Not handsome, then.


  1. Hi, I just wanted to ask you something: Are you aware that Google regards this blog as being insecure?

    I found this blog about 2 months ago and I have never had problems reading it. However, as I write this there is a red line on the top that says: "¡Sitio sospechoso de ataque!", which basically means your blog contains malicious software.

  2. Yes. It's just happened today, and I don't know why. Trying to find out.

  3. Is the "Sample of The Etymologicon now" thingy new? Perhaps it has something to do with that. Then again, even Gmail recently had javascript permission problems, so perhaps the issue is not coming from the blog.

    I now tried to access the blog through Chrome, Mozilla and Internet Explorer and it works fine.

  4. It's only on individual blogposts in 2012. I can't work out what it is, but I've requested a review.

  5. Curious that the general term in German for a mobile (or cell) phone is a Handi, and they think it is the equivalent term in English