Definition of handkerchief in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈhaŋkətʃɪf/

noun (plural handkerchiefs or handkerchieves /ˈhaŋkətʃiːvz/)

A square of cotton or other finely woven material intended for wiping one’s nose.
Example sentences
  • He sits repeatedly wiping his nose on his handkerchief, and then spreading it out on his lap like a napkin.
  • I blew my nose in a napkin and blew my nose again on his handkerchief.
  • Now, however, he was too ill to notice it - how the people in the car began to gasp and sputter, to put handkerchiefs to their noses, and transfix him with furious glances.
pocket handkerchief;
tissue, paper handkerchief
trademark Kleenex
Scottish & Northern English  napkin;
French mouchoir;
Indian  corah, Malabar, pullicate
informal hanky, nose rag, snot rag
informal, dated nose-wiper, sneezer, wipe, wiper
literary kerchief
archaic clout, muckender, monteith, fogle, foulard, stook, Barcelona


Mid 16th century: from hand + kerchief.

  • kerchief from Middle English:

    The early spelling was kerchef, from Old French cuevrechief, from couvrir ‘to cover’ and chief ‘head’. It was formerly used to describe a woman's head-dress, a type of cloth covering over the hair. The word was used meaning ‘cloth’ as the second element of handkerchief from the mid 16th century.

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.