[ hand-bawl ]
/ ˈhændˌbɔl /
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a game, similar to squash, played by two or four persons who strike a small ball against a wall or walls with the hand.
the small, hard rubber ball used in this game.
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Origin of handball

First recorded in 1400–50, handball is from the late Middle English word handballe.See hand, ball1


handballer, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does handball mean?

Perhaps the most common use of the word handball is to refer to the rules violation in soccer (football) in which a player (other than the goalkeeper) touches the ball with their hand or part of their arm.

Unrelatedly, there are two sports called handball: one is a team game in which two teams try to score points by throwing a ball into the opposing team’s goal, and another involves players striking a rubber ball against a wall with their hands.

The word handball is also used to refer to the ball used in each of these games.

The team sport that’s known as handball (or team handball) is similar to soccer in that scoring is achieved by getting the ball in the goal, except that the ball is handled with the hands and not the feet—and it’s played on a court similar to a basketball court. There are seven players on a team, including a goalkeeper, and players can run with the ball and dribble it. It is featured as an event in the Summer Olympic Games and is sometimes called Olympic handball.

Another, less common version of team handball is played on a field.

The other kind of handball, sometimes called wallball, is similar to squash or racquetball, except that players hit the ball with their (usually gloved) hands instead of a racket. Points are scored when one’s opponents cannot successfully hit the ball back against the wall. This kind of handball can be played on a court with four walls, three walls, or just one. It’s typically played one-on-one (singles) or with two teams of two (doubles).

Example: I’ve never played team handball, but I used to play the one-on-one version with my cousin in Brooklyn.

Where does handball come from?

The first records of the word handball come from the 1400s. The names of many other ball-based sports use the word ball in the same way, including football, basketball, and baseball.

Team handball is thought to have originated in Germany and Scandinavia in the late 1800s. The field version was showcased at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, but the indoor, court version eventually became more popular. It has been an event in the Summer Olympics since 1972. Women’s handball was added as an Olympic event in 1976.

The wall version of handball is thought to be among the oldest ball games that is still played, with records of its play from ancient Rome, Spain, and France. Games involving throwing or hitting a ball toward a wall have been around since balls were created, with different cultures developing different versions, including the Spanish jai alai, the British fives, and the sport known as Irish handball. Irish handball was brought by Irish immigrants to the U.S. and gained popularity, particularly in Brooklyn, New York, where the modern version of handball is still popular today.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to handball?

  • handballer (noun)

What are some synonyms for handball?

  • team handball
  • Olympic handball (in reference to the indoor, court version)
  • wallball (in reference to the walled-court version)

What are some words that share a root or word element with handball

What are some words that often get used in discussing handball?

How is handball used in real life?

Due to the popularity of soccer, most people are familiar with the word handball as one of the game’s most basic rules violations.

The team version of handball is best known as an Olympic event.

The version of handball involving hitting a ball against a wall with the hands is popular in some cities, notably New York.

Try using handball!

True or False?

In the wall-based game of handball, you can use your feet to rebound the ball.

How to use handball in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for handball

/ (ˈhændˌbɔːl) /

a game in which two teams of seven players try to throw a ball into their opponent's goal
a game in which two or four people strike a ball against a wall or walls with the hand, usually gloved
the small hard rubber ball used in this game
soccer the offence committed when a player other than a goalkeeper in his own penalty area touches the ball with a hand
Australian rules football to pass (the ball) with a blow of the fist

Derived forms of handball

handballer, noun
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