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90s Slang You Should Know


[hand-foo l] /ˈhænd fʊl/
noun, plural handfuls.
the quantity or amount that the hand can hold:
a handful of coins.
a small amount, number, or quantity:
a handful of men.
Informal. a person or thing that is as much as one can manage or control:
The baby's tantrums made him a handful.
Origin of handful
before 900; Middle English, Old English. See hand, -ful
Usage note
See -ful. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for handful
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He has only a handful an' I heard that the volunteers won't stay.

    The Loyalist James Francis Barrett
  • "You can each of you have a handful," said aunt Madge, reaching down the box.

    Little Prudy Sophie May
  • He received me with his usual courtesy, and gave me a handful of cigarettes to try.

    The Lost Ambassador E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • Let us lay the handful of snow on our fevered foreheads and cool our desires.

    Expositions of Holy Scripture Alexander Maclaren
  • Only a handful of men had any good to say for him, and that handful were looked upon as madmen by their neighbors.

    Historic Adventures Rupert S. Holland
British Dictionary definitions for handful


noun (pl) -fuls
the amount or number that can be held in the hand
a small number or quantity
(informal) a person or thing difficult to manage or control
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for handful

Old English handful; see hand (n.) + -ful. Originally the quality that can be held in a hand; also a medieval linear measurement of four inches. Meaning "a small portion or part" is from c.1400. Figurative meaning "as much as one can manage" is from 1755.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for handful



  1. A five-year prison sentence or term (1930+ Underworld)
  2. A great deal to manage; burdensome task: That kid of yours is a handful (1887+)

Related Terms

grab a handful of air

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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