Log in

handsome, hand - Historical Origins of English Words and Phrases [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Historical Origins of English Words and Phrases

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

[Links:| Word Archive ]

handsome, hand [Nov. 19th, 2007|08:35 pm]
Historical Origins of English Words and Phrases


[Tags|, ]
[Current Mood |hungryhungry]

handsome, adj. [han-suhm, hăn-sŭm]
-Handsome is actually derived from hand, but the origin of hand is a bit foggy. Arriving in Old English as hond, hand is possibly derived from the prehistoric Germanic khanduz. There is also a theory that it is related to Gothic frahinthan 'seize, pursue,' Swedish hinna 'reach,' and English 'hunt,' with the underlying meaning of 'body part used for seizing.' It has modern related forms in Dutch, hand, and German, Hand, though it has no relatives outside of the Germanic languages. By Middle English, the Old English plural handa was changed to handen, which later became hands. It was around this time, approximately 1350-1400, that handsome appeared. The original sense was of something 'easy to handle, ready at hand,' which led to the word being used in some contexts to mean 'suitable, apt.' By 1577 this had become 'fair-size, considerable,' meaning that it took all of one's hand to use or wield it. It wasn't until the very end of the 16th century that the modern definition of 'having fine form or quality, good-looking' took effect. Handsome, meaning 'generous' (a handsome reward) was not recorded until a full century later.

[User Picture]From: muddle
2007-11-20 05:23 am (UTC)
I'd never really thought of there being another meaning, even with the -some suffix not working the same way as it generally does as in bothersome or tiresome, where it would mean 'full of ___' or 'begetting ___' but now in seeing it handsome, as in 'begetting hands' makes much more sense than our contemporary definition. How very curious indeed, thank you for this one :)
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: tinawiesen
2007-11-20 06:41 am (UTC)
This is a bit unrelated, but how did the measurement of 'hands' in reference to horses come into being?
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: gwoman
2007-11-20 08:11 am (UTC)
hmm, i'm not sure. unfortunately that wasn't mentioned in any of my sources. maybe another member can answer this for us?
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: wheatpuppy
2007-11-20 08:55 am (UTC)
I don't have an authoritative answer or particular source, but back on the farm they told us it just grew up out of a convention for measuring horses with whatever was, well, handy. Measuring by hands (conventionally, a "hand" is currently considered equal 4 inches) was both convenient and portable, and translated readily into foreign systems of measurement.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: calmllama
2007-11-20 10:24 am (UTC)
It comes from the ancient egyptian system of measurements. The hand and the cubit were the main units of measurement. The hand being accross the palm and a cubit being the length from elbow to finger tips. It was passed onto other races as a way of measuring horses as that was how the egyptian cavalry measured theirs.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2016-01-30 02:26 pm (UTC)
Its basically the width of an average human hand, with origins dating back to Egypt.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: foolshavepride
2007-11-20 09:28 am (UTC)
Oh I did not know this and just something I noticed:

By Middle English, the Old English plural handa was changed to handen

"handen" means "the hand" if you translate it from Swedish to English..
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arthal
2007-11-20 08:04 pm (UTC)
"Handen" still the plural of "hand" in Dutch.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zhukora1
2007-11-20 12:33 pm (UTC)

This made me wonder if the origins of "fetching" as in, "she looks fetching in that new dress", were a close parallel to those of "handsome". I always thought "fetching" was a bit random and a stretch as a synonym for "attractive", but maybe not anymore. :)
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: gantar
2007-11-20 08:38 pm (UTC)
Hm, this is interesting. 'Handsome' - the 'wanted', the 'fetching' one, the one everybody wants to 'grab' for themselves - yep, it seems likely that this word went a similar way as 'fetching' does now. :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: evrythgcnhapn
2007-11-21 02:04 am (UTC)
your icon has me mesmerized:) yay!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: gantar
2007-11-22 09:18 am (UTC)
Thanks (even though it's not made by me x)) I like it, too ^^
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: lady_magnesia
2007-11-20 01:05 pm (UTC)
It's so awesome how the simplest, most quotidian words have the most complicated origins.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: namfle
2007-11-20 02:01 pm (UTC)
Despite the similarity between the words, I wouldn't have guess that "handsome" is derived from "hand," given modern context.

Excellent entry, this.

(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: vaivata
2007-11-20 05:33 pm (UTC)
That is neat that 'handsome', has gone through so many variations to where it is today.
Where do you supossed the wrod 'sorrow' was formed? I read along time ago that the word, like handsome, was not was it is today.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: cobramask
2007-11-21 03:32 pm (UTC)
Is it not possible that the word "handsome" comes from the system of measuring horses? If something is plentiful in something, it is sometimes followed by the suffix "-some", like "troublesome", "wholesome" or "winsome".

If a horse is plentiful in hands, he is a fine specimen, so perhaps the term "handsome" was coined to refer to such a horse. Given the nature of language, would it not be possible that this word could then cross over to be used in reference to people?

Just a theory.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: Luis Escajeda Pineda
2013-02-10 04:08 pm (UTC)

great theory thanks for sharing!!

this was a very enlightening thought sharing, thanks!!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: Luis Escajeda Pineda
2013-02-10 04:07 pm (UTC)

thanks alot indeed!!!

this was great reading
the best ethimology on the web!
(Reply) (Thread)