• handsel •
Pronunciation: hæn-sêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The gift given on Handsel Monday, the first Monday of the New Year, in the British Isles and elsewhere. 2. The first money made by a new business on opening day, taken as a good omen; also the first payment, earnest money. 3. A foretaste of good things to come.
Notes: Some folks omit the [d] and spell today's word hansel but this reflects the pronunciation and need not affect spelling. (Since when do we English speakers need the crutch of rational spelling?) Keeping the [d] helps us distinguish today's good word from Gretel's Hansel in the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel.
In Play: According to custom in the British Isles, Handsel Monday is a day to give a small gift or good luck charm to children or to those who have served you well: "Every penny of every handsel received by children in the village was in the sweet shop till by the end of the day." The gift is called a "handsel" and is intended to symbolize the first in a long line of gifts or good luck throughout the year: "Good morning, Miss Teak, I hope your smile is a handsel for the new year."
Word History: As long ago as the year 1200, English speakers were using the ancestor of "handsel" for any good luck charm, especially one given at the start of something new. By the 1500s, traders were using "handsel" for the first cash they earned in the morning—to them, an omen of good things to follow. We see above how we use it today. Middle English hanselle came from Old English handselen "a handing over" from hand + selen "gift". (Today's lexical hansel is an gift of Ekkis, an old friend from the Agora. However, we here at The Lexiteria and its alphaDICTIONARY site would like to thank all of our readers for your support and wish you the happiest and most prosperous of New Years.)
Just a little comment regarding derivation : the AHD provides the following information regarding the provenance of this word :
[Middle English hanselle, from Old English handselen, a handing over ( hand, hand + selen, gift), and from Old Norse handsal, legal transfer ( hand, hand + sal, a giving).]
I know little or nothing about Old English, but with regard to the Old Norse, sal referred, if I am not misinformed, to a payment rather than a gift. The modern Norwegian (bokmål) derivative is «salg», the obvious English cognate «sale»....