Intermediate+ Word of the Day: handle

handle (noun, verb) /ˈhændəl/ LISTEN

A door handle

A handle is a part of a thing made to be taken hold of by the hand. Unrelatedly, and colloquially, a handle is somebody’s name (this is especially used for usernames for apps and websites). To handle means ‘to take hold of something or use your hands on something,’ ‘to manage and be responsible for something,’ and also ‘to use something in a particular manner.’ In addition, to handle means ‘to behave or perform in a particular way when directed or steered,’ ‘to control,’ and ‘to trade in something.’

Example sentences

  • Tim picked up the jug by the handle.
  • That guy goes by the handle of Joe.
  • My Skype handle is AmazingEnglish54683.
  • Emily handled the frightened dog carefully.
  • Kirsty handled the difficult negotiations skillfully.
  • This author handles words beautifully.
  • Our new car handles well on these twisty mountain roads.
  • The officer handles his troops effectively.
  • This store only handles small electrical items; you'll have to go somewhere else if you want to buy a refrigerator.

Words often used with handle

have a handle on something, get a handle on something: understand, grasp: Example: “I just can’t get a handle on this new online system my bank is using; I wish they’d go back to the old one.”

fly off the handle: lose your temper. Example: “All I said was that I thought he looked better in the other shirt and he completely flew off the handle!”

too hot to handle: too difficult to deal with. “This situation is too hot to handle. I’m going home.”

In pop culture

The related word “handlebar” refers to the part of something you are supposed to grasp with both your hands, usually on a bike or motorbike. This also gives us the term “handlebar mustache,” which is a mustache that resembles the handlebar of a bike. Here is a video showing you how to create this look:

Did you know?

In some contexts, the words handle and manage are completely synonymous, especially when you’re talking about handling a situation. However, manage has other meanings that handle does not, such as ‘to succeed in doing something with difficulty’ or ‘to find time for something.’

Other forms

handler (noun)


Handle, both as a noun and as a verb, dates back to before the year 900. The Old English noun hand(e)le, and later the Middle English noun handel, are derivatives of the word hand, and use the suffix -el, which indicated something was an instrument (just like spindle comes from spin, and thimble comes from thumb). The meaning of ‘nickname’ first appeared in the mid-19th century, and came from the figurative idea of adding a handle (the titles Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.) to your name. The expression fly off the handle is also from the mid-19th century, and is a figurative reference to an axe head flying off the handle. To get a handle on something first appeared in the early 20th century. The verb handle was originally handlian in Old English, and then handelen in Middle English. We cannot say for sure whether the noun comes from the verb or it is the other way around, because they appeared around the same time. They are related to the German verb handlen (to bargain or trade), the Old Norse hǫndla (to seize), and the Danish handle (to trade or deal.)

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