or han·sel

[ han-suhl ]
See synonyms for handsel on Thesaurus.com
  1. a gift or token for good luck or as an expression of good wishes, as at the beginning of the new year or when entering upon a new situation or enterprise.

  2. Rare. a first installment of payment.

  1. Rare. the initial experience of anything; first encounter with or use of something taken as a token of what will follow; foretaste.

verb (used with object),hand·seled, hand·sel·ing or (especially British) hand·selled, hand·sel·ling.
  1. to give (someone) a gift for good luck or as an expression of good wishes, especially at the beginning of the new year or the launch of a new enterprise..

  2. Older Use. to inaugurate auspiciously.

  1. Older Use. to use, try, or experience for the first time.

Origin of handsel

First recorded before 1050; Middle English handselne “good-luck token, good-will gift,” Old English handselen “manumission,” literally “hand-gift” (see hand, sell1); cognate with Danish handsel, “earnest money.” The Middle English word was influenced by Old Norse handsal “handshake, handclasp (for sealing a purchase or a promise)”

Other words from handsel

  • un·hand·seled; (especially British) un·hand·selled, adjective

Words Nearby handsel

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use handsel in a sentence

  • "And here's a handsel to cross his palm," added Harry, passing the piper something invisible.

    The Incendiary | W. A. (William Augustine) Leahy
  • He would instantly give him a 'handsel' of harrying to stay his proud stomach.

    Border Ghost Stories | Howard Pease
  • But the devil a sou the devils took; far from taking handsel, they were flouted and jeered by the country louts.

  • "Mercury hath sent us precious handsel this morning, truly," said he, when his diversion was concluded.

  • A bareheaded lassie, hoping to be handsel, threw down twopence, and asked tape at three yards for a halfpenny.

    The Life of Mansie Wauch | David Macbeth Moir

British Dictionary definitions for handsel


  1. a gift for good luck at the beginning of a new year, new venture, etc

verb-sels, -selling or -selled or US -sels, -seling or -seled (tr)
  1. to give a handsel to (a person)

  2. to begin (a venture) with ceremony; inaugurate

Origin of handsel

Old English handselen delivery into the hand; related to Old Norse handsal promise sealed with a handshake, Swedish handsöl gratuity; see hand, sell

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