While exploring a new city by yourself, your phone ran out of battery. You want to call your friends to let them know, and you still know their phone number for some weird 1990s reason. You walk up to a stranger waiting at a bus stop and ask:
“Can you give me a handy?”
Slow down there, cowboy! You accidentally asked them something very inappropriate. You might even get slapped in the face for it.
Nokia introduced the term “Handy” to explain mobile phones to the German market. They decided to describe them as “phones you use with your hands”. You know, exactly like all other kinds of phones. The marketing term stuck for decades, but only has this meaning in Germany.
When used as a noun in English, “handy” is a slang term describing an adult activity. To avoid your spam folder, I won’t explain it here and recommend you look it up on urbandictionary.com instead. How do you feel about our bus stop story now? The question is still valid, but the response won’t help you call your friends.
You can also use “handy” as an adjective, similar to “Arm/arm” and “Fest/fest” in German. If a person is handy, they are good with tools and working with their hands. If a tool is handy, it is useful and practical. A mobile phone can be “handy”, but it won’t ever be “a handy”.
“Handy” is tricky because it looks so English. It is, but not with the same meaning as we have given it in German. This also teaches us to always check Urban Dictionary before naming products. I blame Nokia for this unnecessary and very awkward confusion.
When in need of a mobile phone, ask people for a “mobile phone” instead.
All lessons in this course
What do you call a phone you can hold in your hand? Well, it’s not this. If you call it a handy, you’re in for some awkward looks.Read full lesson