[hang-ker-chif, -cheef]


a small piece of linen, silk, or other fabric, usually square, and used especially for wiping one's nose, eyes, face, etc., or for decorative purposes.
a neckerchief or kerchief.

Origin of handkerchief

First recorded in 1520–30; hand + kerchief
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for handkerchief

Contemporary Examples of handkerchief

Historical Examples of handkerchief

  • Let it go and tuck in your handkerchief like the rest of us.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • I was so enraged that she was not there, I wished to cover my face with my handkerchief.


    Thomas Wentworth Higginson

  • He said, 'Throw your handkerchief to whichever of us you love.'


    William J. Locke

  • I was forced to turn my face from them, and pull out my handkerchief.

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

  • And when he had told her all, she sat silent, rolling her handkerchief in her fingers.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

British Dictionary definitions for handkerchief



a small square of soft absorbent material, such as linen, silk, or soft paper, carried and used to wipe the nose, etc
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

Word Origin and History for handkerchief

1520s, from hand + kerchief "cloth for covering the head." Thus it is a one-word contradiction in terms. By-form handkercher was in use 16c.-19c. A dropped handkerchief as a token of flirtation or courtship is attested by mid-18c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper