AskDefine | Define handkerchief

Dictionary Definition

handkerchief n : a square piece of cloth used for wiping the eyes or nose or as a costume accessory [syn: hankie, hanky, hankey]

User Contributed Dictionary



Compound of hand and kerchief


  • (UK) /ˈhæŋkətʃɪf/, /"h

Extensive Definition

A handkerchief (also called handkercher or hanky) is a square of fabric, usually carried in the pocket, for personal hygiene purposes such as wiping one's hands or blowing one's nose, but also used as a decorative accessory in a suit pocket. Richard II of England is said to have invented the handkerchief, as "little pieces [of cloth] for the lord King to wipe and clean his nose," appear in his Household Rolls or accounts, which is the first documented use of them.
Historically, white handkerchiefs have been used in place of a white flag to indicate surrender or a flag of truce.


Use of handkerchief instead of facial tissue paper is often seen as old-fashioned and, especially in North America, unhygienic. On the other hand, some see it as a more environment-conscious choice.
The Kleenex company hadn't initially imagined that people would want a disposable handkerchief, so they initially marketed their product exclusively as a make-up removal tool. It was only later after they discovered that people were blowing their noses into the tissue that they began marketing it for this purpose.
A bandana is a larger type of handkerchief often printed in a vibrant color and with a paisley pattern. Bandanas are most often used to hold hair back, as a fashionable head accessory, or to identify gang affiliation. In the US, for instance, the Crips gang members use blue handkerchiefs, and their rivals, the Bloods, use red.

Folding styles

When used as an accessory to a suit, a handkerchief is known as a pocket square. There are a wide variety of ways to fold a pocket square, ranging from the austere to the flamboyant:
  • The Presidential, perhaps the simplest, is folded at right angles to fit in the pocket.
  • The TV Fold looks similar but is folded diagonally with the point inside the pocket.
  • The One-point Fold is folded diagonally with the point showing.
  • The Two-point Fold is folded off-center so the two points don't completely overlap.
  • The Three-point Fold is first folded into a triangle, then the corners are folded up and across to make three points.
  • The Four-point Fold is an off-center version of the Three-point Fold.
  • The Cagney is basically a backwards version of the Four-point Fold.
  • The Puff or the Cooper is simply shaped into a round puff.
  • The Reverse Puff is like the Puff, except with the puff inside and the points out, like petals.
  • The Astaire is a puff with a point on either side.
  • The Straight Shell is pleated and then folded over to give the appearance of nested shells.
  • The Diagonal Shell is pleated diagonally and then folded.

In popular culture

In the United Kingdom at least, the handkerchief has become something of a comedy item. In particular, the British phenomenon of wearing a handkerchief with tied corners on one's head at the beach has become a seaside postcard stereotype. Another source of comedy is found when a more expensive or important item is mistaken for a handkerchief, for example a tie or a pair of curtains. Other occurrences are formed from the comedic potential of a loud sneeze and subsequent nose-blowing;
In Spanish football, it is a common sight to see supporters waving white handkerchiefs as an expression of deep emotion, both positive in admiration of an exceptional performance by their team or a particular player (even an opposition player as was experienced by Ronaldinho during a victory for FC Barcelona over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, in which Madrid fans openly applauded his performance), or more commonly negatively in disgust at an especially bad performance by their team.
In some movies and television programs, it is used as an agent to hold a few drops of chloroform to hold over a victim's mouth and nose to render them unconscious.

Other uses

Judges during British rule in Hong Kong used to place a Handkerchief on their heads to signify a death sentence. This has not been in use as the death penalty has been abolished in Hong Kong.


handkerchief in Bavarian: Socktiachl
handkerchief in Czech: Kapesník
handkerchief in Danish: Lommetørklæde
handkerchief in German: Taschentuch
handkerchief in Spanish: Pañuelo
handkerchief in French: Mouchoir
handkerchief in Luxembourgish: Nuesschnappech
handkerchief in Dutch: Zakdoek
handkerchief in Japanese: ハンカチ
handkerchief in Polish: Chusteczka do nosa
handkerchief in Russian: Носовой платок
handkerchief in Sundanese: Carécét
handkerchief in Finnish: Nenäliina
handkerchief in Swedish: Näsduk
handkerchief in Tamil: கைக்குட்டை
handkerchief in Chinese: 手絹
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