Handy is an English word. It has many definitions, but not one is telephone. So how did the word Handy enter the German language?

In English, you’ll usually hear the adjective handy used to talk about how useful or convenient something is:
“This dictionary is handy when I’m reading English articles.”
“It’s very handy having a supermarket next door.”

It can also be used to talk about something that is ready to hand:
“When I’m at work, I always have a pen handy in case I need to write anything down.”

You can even use it to mean skilful:
“He’s always been very handy in the kitchen.”

I’m not sure anyone knows exactly how the word Handy entered German, but there are several theories. Perhaps Handy was an early abbreviation of handheld telephone. Or maybe the very first mobile communications devices were marketed as useful and convenient – a handy telephone – then shortened to Handy in German-speaking countries.

Whatever happened, as the word Handy became popular in German, alternative names were being invented in the English-speaking world. As the market grew, the terms cell phone (shortened to cell) and mobile phone (or mobile) started to be used in the US and UK respectively.

Of all the English-sounding words used in the German language, Handy is possibly the strangest. These phones may be handy, but they’re certainly not Handys to English speakers.

Do you know any other English words that have different meanings in another language?

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