Saturday, August 25, 2007

Handsome is as Handsome Does

Is there really a hand in handsome? If so, how?

Let’s examine the -some part first. It was an Old English suffix (-sum) used primarily to form adjectives from nouns, and occasionally from other adjectives and verbs.

So the suffix -some added to hand meant pertaining to a hand. Let’s follow the evolution of the word, starting in 1435 A.D., through the eyes of the Oxford English Dictionary.

• Easy to handle or manipulate, or to wield, deal with, or use in any way.
• Of action, speech, etc.: Appropriate, apt, dexterous, clever, happy: in reference to language, sometimes implying gracefulness of style.
• Proper, fitting, seemly, becoming, decent, courteous, gracious.
• Of a sum of money, a fortune, a gift, etc.: Considerable. Now in stronger sense: Ample, generous, liberal, munificent.
• Having a fine form or figure (usually in conjunction with full size or stateliness); ‘beautiful with dignity’; ‘fine’. (The prevailing current sense.)

So, “attractive because easy to handle” eventually lost the hand but retained the attractiveness.

Most people will recognize some of the other surviving -some forms:

adventuresome: seeking risky activities
awesome: inspiring awe; prodigious
bothersome: causing bother
cumbersome: unwieldy and clumsy
fearsome: causing fear; timid
fulsome: offending through excess; insincere
gruesome: horrible; grisly
loathsome: abhorrent; offensive
lonesome: suffering from lack of company
meddlesome: given to interfering
noisome: foul; disgusting; harmful
quarrelsome: contentious; belligerent
wholesome: salutary; sound; healthful
winsome: of an attractive nature or disposition

SIDEBAR: Handsome Devil

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