H for handsome…..

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.

Later, 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 19th century 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.

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