pæn-hæn-dêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb
Meaning: 1. [Noun] A narrower strip of land projecting from a larger territory. 2. [Verb] To beg.
Notes: Pan handles play a disproportionate role in the semantic awareness of English speakers. When we get angry we fly off the handle and when we are poor we panhandle. The noun has a plural, panhandles, and the verb is conjugated like all verbs (panhandles, panhandled, panhandling). It has a personal noun, panhandler.
In Play: The three most prominent (so to speak) panhandles in US geography are the Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas panhandles. The Florida panhandle is in the north of the state and, like the Oklahoma panhandle, points west. The Texas panhandle points north. The verb refers to begging on the street: "If I don't get a raise next month, I'm going back to panhandling."
Word History: The verbal sense of today's Good Word is a back formation from panhandler, that is to say, someone who handles a pan, a word that emerged in the 1890s. This term arose when beggars regularly approached people on the street holding a tin pan or cup with coins in it, shaking the vessel so that the money in it jangled and attracted the attention of passers-by. If people doing this are panhandlers, what they are doing must be panhandling, so the verb was 'back derived' from the noun. In other words, this word has nothing to do with handles but with handling pans. (We are so happy that Peggy Nielsen gave us what we are always begging for: another Good Word for our series.)
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