• handsome •
hæn-sêm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. (Men) Attractive, having pleasing features appropriate for a man or any other thing (a handsome piano). 2. (Women) Beautiful and poised, attractive and dignified for a woman. 3. (Elsewhere) Generous, copious, liberal, more than ample (handsome salary).
Notes: This is a word that is seldom used to refer to women because it has been so closely associated with men and other objects. A handsome woman is beautiful and something else, but we aren't sure what that 'something else' is. Well, now we know. Today's Good Word may be used adverbially, handsomely, and it comes with an unhandsome noun, handsomeness.
In Play: We seldom use today's Good Word in reference to women, not that there is any shortage of handsome women: "Derry Yare is a handsome and intelligent woman whom Phil Anders immediately knew was out of his league." "Handsome is as handsome does" is a phrase that might be appropriately applied to Phil, if he lives up to his name. It is applied to a handsome person who misbehaves. In fact, we can use this word to describe many things other than men: "Dewey Rose worked hard on her garden until it was the handsomest in the neighborhood."
Word History: The origin of this word might surprise some of you. Its development parallels those of other adjectives with the suffix -some, like burdensome, wholesome, and loathsome. Its meaning, though, started out in Middle English as "easily handled, easy to deal with". Its cousin, Dutch handzaam, still carries that meaning. When handy's meaning shifted from "done by hand" to "convenient", handsome's meaning shifted to "handy". How this meaning made it to "beautiful" is anyone's guess. (We now handsomely thank Aaron Groetsch for his suggestion of today's Good Word.")
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