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Handsome

Posted: Tue Feb 11, 2020 4:39 am
by Stevenloan
Hi everyone! Does it sound natural to call a nice watch "a handsome watch"?

Thanks a lot!

StevenLoan

Re: Handsome

Posted: Tue Feb 11, 2020 8:54 pm
by Phil White
Good question!

"Handsome" is a strange word. Its meaning has shifted over time, and the different things that we may describe as "handsome" have also changed over time. Furthermore, it has for a long time been a word that is only used by certain groups of speakers in certain meanings.

I shall do my best to describe the situation as I see it.

When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, "handsome" was used by ordinary folks only in the meaning of "physically attractive" (of people) and was only applied to males: "Gregory Peck was a handsome man". Among ordinary speakers, you would very rarely hear it used in any other context.

Occasionally, you would also hear "handsome" used with a couple of other meanings:
"He had a handsome income" (impressively large, although perhaps not stupendous)
"He made a handsome donation to the charity" (generous, but also large)

In the 18th and 19thh centuries, it was also common to see the word "handsome" applied to a woman in the meaning of "physically attractive", but my suspicion is that this meaning declined at the start of the 20th century. More recently, if the word is applied to a woman it seems to me that it means something more like "elegant". I am not sure that I have heard it used of a woman for about 20 years or so.

Again, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the word "handsome" would be applied to objects and seems to me to have a complex meaning comprising elements of "well-crafted", "attractive" and "valuable":
"In the centre of the village is a handsome church."
"That is a very handsome antique table."

Although the meaning still exists, but "handsome" only tends to be used in such contexts by writers and presenters who are deliberately choosing slightly archaic language (authors of books on architecture or presenters of TV shows on antiques). This is what I would immediately think of if I heard the phrase "a handsome watch".

Nowadays, even the use of "handsome" with reference to a man to mean "good looking" sounds a little old fashioned, and if it is used, I suspect it tends to have more to do with elegance than sex-appeal.

So in answer to your question, it is possible to refer to "a handsome watch", but it would sound rather formal and old-fashioned and would not just mean "attractive". I cannot really imagine somebody saying it of a modern smartwatch. It would be used of an elegant, classically styled, possibly hand-crafted watch.

Re: Handsome

Posted: Tue Feb 11, 2020 8:59 pm
by trolley
It sounds quite natural, to me. I understand that handsome can be used to describe a man or a woman or a piece of art or an animal or anything else that is pleasing to the eye, of appealing proportions, etc. Even still, I usually use "handsome" to describe something masculine...something with more rugged good looks. When you said a handsome watch, I immediately pictured a nice chunky gold Rolex (man's watch). I'd probably not describe a woman's watch as handsome, although it wouldn't be incorrect. That's just how "handsome" works...in my head...

Just noticed Phil had responded as I pecked out my answer...

Re: Handsome

Posted: Tue Feb 11, 2020 9:07 pm
by Phil White
Interesting, John. My sensibilities about "handsome" may be peculiar to the UK.

Re: Handsome

Posted: Tue Feb 11, 2020 9:45 pm
by trolley
...and mine may just be peculiar to me! As a side note, when I hear "she is a handsome woman", I take that as tongue-in-cheek and imagine it means just the opposite. My dad was a handsome man. His mother looked exactly like him. If someone were to say she was a handsome woman, I'd have to agree, but it wouldn't be a compliment.

Re: Handsome

Posted: Wed Feb 12, 2020 1:03 pm
by Stevenloan
Phil White and trolley : Thank you both so much for your help. I really appreciate it.

StevenLoan