a handsome woman?

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Moon Palace

Senior Member
French
Hello everybody,
I had always been told that the adjective 'handsome' is for men, and that women are supposed to be 'pretty'.
Is there any added meaning if you say 'a handsome woman'? Which is what I have just found in an academic text about a novel by Jane Austen. Thanks for your help.
 
  • The Scrivener

    Banned
    England. English
    Hello everybody,
    I had always been told that the adjective 'handsome' is for men, and that women are supposed to be 'pretty'.
    Is there any added meaning if you say 'a handsome woman'? Which is what I have just found in an academic text about a novel by Jane Austen. Thanks for your help.

    Hello Moon Palace,

    In the era of Jane Austen, "handsome" was an adjective frequently applied to women. I don't know precisely when it fell out of use but it was used for a long time. One doesn't normally hear it nowadays.
     

    rusalka_bg

    Senior Member
    Serbian
    I found in Oxford dictionary that you can use handsome to describe both women and men, meaning good-looking, attractive, personable, elegant, fine, well-formed, well-proportioned

    I suppose it is the same as in my language - we usually say a pretty woman and a handsome man, but it is more likely to hear a handsome woman than a pretty man.

    We say pretty about a face, and handsome about a well-built body, so a pretty girl doesn't necessarily mean she's handsome and vice verca. But in man, you don't look his face as much as his body.

    Maybe that's it
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Hello, Moon Palace
    The adjective handsome can indeed be used for a woman.
    A woman can be pretty, beautiful or handsome, each word having a different meaning.
    Handsome is more related to harmony of proportions, dignity, gracefulness, elegance.

    Wait for more answers.
     

    Trisia

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    Hello, Moon Palace

    Yes, I know, I've always used:

    a beautiful woman - a handsome man
    a pretty girl - a cute boy

    I think a handsome woman is one whose features are symmetrical :D.

    I was also surprised by Jane Austen's use of this adjective. In fact, from what I recall, she seems to use mostly these: plain (ugly), pretty (nice) and handsome (beautiful).
     

    billdoor

    New Member
    France/French
    A handsome woman is strikingly good-looking while a pretty woman's look is more conventional.
    A handsome man is only good-looking.
     

    Moon Palace

    Senior Member
    French
    Thank you all for your answers :), I now grasp the nuance. But for the record, the phrase is not by Jane Austen here, I picked it in a critic's comment, and he does not quote her. So that it is a contemporary use, which is what made me wonder. And he in fact describes one of the Bennets' daughters, so that beautiful may be a hyperbole, while handsome then adds the subtlety you defined well.
     

    The Scrivener

    Banned
    England. English
    Thank you all for your answers :), I now grasp the nuance. But for the record, the phrase is not by Jane Austen here, I picked it in a critic's comment, and he does not quote her. So that it is a contemporary use, which is what made me wonder. And he in fact describes one of the Bennets' daughters, so that beautiful may be a hyperbole, while handsome then adds the subtlety you defined well.

    It was used by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice. Mr Bingley describes Elizabeth Bennet as "a handsome woman".
     

    Moon Palace

    Senior Member
    French
    yes, but what I meant is that the critic uses it in another instance of his own making. Which gives it a different perspective if you see what I mean. Sorry for not being clear enough.
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    I don't think one of my friends would be complimented if I told them they were a handsome-looking woman!

    This is strictly AE speaking here.

    It's probably different by country, but here in America, you tell a female she's handsome, and most likely she'll think she needs a new hairdresser, she needs to buy a new line of make-up, and she needs to make an appointment immediately at the spa with an electrologist! :D

    I'd rather some guy thought I was just average-looking than handsome.


    AngelEyes
     

    Musical Chairs

    Senior Member
    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    This is something "correct" to say that people don't actually say (at least not in the US). It would be weird for a woman to hear herself being called "handsome", and if I called a woman handsome, my friends would probably think that I mean that she looks good in a mannish way (not exactly a good thing). "Handsome" is more for men but I would say that other adjectives are more common, especially among the younger generation.

    Edit: Women aren't "supposed" to be "pretty" (i.e. that's not the only word you can use to describe a good-looking woman). These mean slightly different things:

    - pretty: attractive
    - beautiful: breathtakingly attractive
    - gorgeous: somewhere in between "pretty" and "beautiful", usually used for older women (not for little girls)
    - cute: the person has endearing qualities but this can be used more to describe personality than the other ones
    - hot: I think of this as more "sexually arousing" attractive

    There are more but I'd say those are the most popular ones.
     

    Moon Palace

    Senior Member
    French
    Edit: Women aren't "supposed" to be "pretty" (i.e. that's not the only word you can use to describe a good-looking woman). These mean slightly different things:

    - pretty: attractive
    - beautiful: breathtakingly attractive
    - gorgeous: somewhere in between "pretty" and "beautiful", usually used for older women (not for little girls)
    - cute: the person has endearing qualities but this can be used more to describe personality than the other ones
    - hot: I think of this as more "sexually arousing" attractive
    Thanks Musical Chairs for this wonderful inventory of the genuine characteristics of women (this is to answer JamesBrandon ;))
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    I can see everybody is being terribly sensitive and polite here, since 'ugly' does not feature on the list. Or, if one wants to be tactful: 'She's not particularly attractive', or: 'I wouldn't say she's ugly, but...' And the old-time classic: 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.' Yeah, right. :p
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    I think saying a woman is handsome suggests that she is attractive but but she has more of a masculine beauty. You can call a man pretty, but only if he looks a bit like a girl. On the other hand beautiful can be applied to men and women.
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    To me, a handsome woman has strong but beautiful features. Glenn Close is a handsome woman, in my opinion.
    In my mind, there are two kinds of handsome women. Here's one:

    HERE

    She's deserving of respect and honor, and if asked to physically describe her, those who had liked her would probably have called her a handsome woman.

    I honestly don't know any woman who would choose to be called handsome by a man.

    This excludes lesbians, which is where you'll find the more attractive handsome women. Here is one who I think is handsome, as well as cute. (Jackie Warner from Workout):

    HERE

    JamesM: I guess Glenn Close would fall somewhere in the middle of these two. This word is obviously a matter of personal opinion. :)



    AngelEyes
     

    Teafrog

    Senior Member
    UK English (& rusty French…)
    My votes:
    Handsome is more related to harmony of proportions, dignity, gracefulness, elegance.
    :tick:

    A handsome woman is strikingly good-looking while a pretty woman's look is more conventional.
    :cross:

    a beautiful woman is...well...beautiful.
    a handsome woman on the other hand is (an older) woman of a certain age that carries herself well, & is well-groomed & confident.
    :tick:

    I think saying a woman is handsome suggests that she is attractive but but she has more of a masculine beauty. You can call a man pretty, but only if he looks a bit like a girl. On the other hand beautiful can be applied to men and women.
    :tick: However, I would say "a beautiful person" relating to their inner spirit. I wouldn't call a man "beautiful" (but that's just me). IMO "Beau" in French is "handsome", "belle" is pretty or attractive.

    I would refer to a woman as being handsome, rather than saying it to her. This would definitely be a compliment, unless of course it was meant as an obvious , catty put-down. To me, a handsome woman has poise, elegance, grace, pleasant proportions, attractive without being very girlish, er…
     

    Tagarela

    Senior Member
    Português - Brasil
    Hi,

    I ran into another example of "handsome woman" in A tale of two cities by Charles Dickens: "(...)if she had been he vainest and handosmest of women." [Part II, Chapter VI]

    So, as some of you have said, I should take it as "elegant", "in good shape", is that right?

    Thank you

    Good bye.:
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    As the rest of the thread demonstrates, Taga, the use of handsome for women is a very subjective thing. About the only thing we can say for sure is that it's a compliment:D
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    So, as some of you have said, I should take it as "elegant", "in good shape", is that right?
    I would strongly recommend that you not call any woman handsome to her face, behind her back, in your diary, or just a thought passing through your brain if you plan on making a good impression and getting a second date with her.

    Modern-day women would not appreciate it. Maybe a handsome woman might be considered fit and be a woman who carries herself with a certain strength in her gait, but there are so many other words that add a feminine touch, why would you want to use handsome at all?

    I'd strongly suggest putting it at the bottom of your list of words.

    If she's elegant, you might tell her she has a wonderful style. Though elegant works the best, so just say that.

    If she's in good shape and she's straight, don't tell her she's handsome to describe that. Just tell her she looks great.

    This is such a no-brainer. Handsome is a word for guys.

    About the only thing we can say for sure is that it's a compliment:D
    Don't ever tell me I'm handsome, ewester. :eek:

    AngelEyes

    Edit:
    I shan't waste another post to type this drivel: actually, Ewie, I like your second choice.(Printed below.) But you can get your own newspaper & slippers...
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The use of the word has clearly changed greatly in the past 240 years. It couldn't now be used as Jane Austen uses it in Chapter 6 of P & P: Of this she was perfectly unaware; -- to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable no where, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I would strongly recommend that you not call any woman handsome to her face, behind her back, in your diary, or just a thought passing through your brain if you plan on making a good impression and getting a second date with her.
    There are other reasons to describe someone besides wanting a second date.

    The question was:

    I had always been told that the adjective 'handsome' is for men, and that women are supposed to be 'pretty'.
    Is there any added meaning if you say 'a handsome woman'? Which is what I have just found in an academic text about a novel by Jane Austen. Thanks for your help.
    The word is still in use by some people to describe a certain kind of beauty in women.

    From the BBC Press Officewebsite , Oct. 2, 2007 describing a role played by Kelly Reilly (who is no horse-face ;) ):

    After memorable performances in Mrs Henderson Presents, Pride And Prejudice, The Libertine, Puffball and Last Orders, Kelly now portrays an elegantly handsome woman who is well to do but nevertheless unhappy with her lot in life. She is trying to fill the void in her existence by carrying on an ardent affair with a dashing, high-flying politician called Richard.

    From a 2008 book excerpt in the New York Times of "Breath", by Tim Winton:

    The mother looks at me properly for the first time. She's a handsome woman in her forties with short, dark hair and arty pendant earrings, and I can imagine that an hour ago, when her lipstick and her life were still intact, she'd have been erect and confident, even a little haughty.


    The word is used. It may engender the kind of vehement response that Angeleyes posted if used directly, just as calling a man "pretty" to his face might, but it is a perfectly serviceable word for describing women.
     
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    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    The word is still in use by some people to describe a certain kind of beauty in women.
    Agreed. I see it used for older women all the time, especially sophisticated, elegant older women. I wouldn't find it insulting at all. However, if you use 'handsome' in a context where a woman was expecting you to call her "pretty" or "cute" or "sexy" instead, I could see it being fairly insulting.
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    I have to respectfully disagree with those who think it's okay to use this word when referring to a woman.

    Why use it at all if there's such a large degree of differing opinions on it?

    As Thomas Tompion stated, the use and meaning of the word has vastly changed in modern day meaning.

    I would encourage anyone who is tempted to use it as a compliment to forget it. There are other, better words to choose.

    The opportunity for misunderstanding, insult, and bad impressions is very high if you do use it.

    AngelEyes
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    EN-UK usage, a handsome woman should have some qualities that make her stand out in someway. She is attractive etc. but there is that extra bit of class there.

    I would happily use it on a Brit but according to this thread there are no longer handsome US women. What about it then you Ozzies and the rest of the old Empire; what do you think?

    GF..
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    Why use it at all if there's such a large degree of differing opinions on it?
    I would use it because it indicates a very specific type of beauty that isn't conveyed as accurately and concisely by other words. The usage of all words varies over time and space and between speakers. I would expect to find a large range of opinions on many words.
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    Because when you use a word to give a compliment to someone, it's just as important - if not more so - how they view that word than how you do, I decided to ask my Mom - an older woman.

    "Mom, let me ask you something. If I told you that I thought you were a handsome woman, would you take it as a compliment?"

    Answer:
    "No!"

    I asked her how it would make her feel to think I thought that about her. She said she'd think she was viewed as a stout, muscular woman who needed a shave.

    Maybe it's just me. Or her.

    So ask a woman you know. And please let me know.

    AngelEyes
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I have to respectfully disagree with those who think it's okay to use this word when referring to a woman.

    Why use it at all if there's such a large degree of differing opinions on it?
    With all due respect, AngelEyes, you are the only one who is having a strong negative reaction to the word.

    As Thomas Tompion stated, the use and meaning of the word has vastly changed in modern day meaning.
    Nevertheless, the word is still in use to describe women and it is a complimentary word.

    I would encourage anyone who is tempted to use it as a compliment to forget it. There are other, better words to choose.


    The opportunity for misunderstanding, insult, and bad impressions is very high if you do use it.

    AngelEyes
    It is a word used to describe a woman in a complimentary fashion, not necessarily a word used directly to a woman as a compliment. I have no doubt that the opportunity for misunderstanding and insult is very high if we use it to describe AngelEyes, ;) but that is not universally true.

    Here is a comment posted in the last 24 hours by a woman (ostensibly) in response to a remark about Michelle Obama:

    She's very tall, and generously proportioned. Her features suit her build. A delicate face would look wrong on her. I would say she is a "handsome" woman, and I mean that as a compliment to her.

    I have no problem with providing a caution about its use, but I do object to characterizing it universally as a word not to be used because of a high probability of untoward results when using it.
     

    silverdaizy

    Senior Member
    Canada- English
    I just have to say that I agree with Angel Eyes and I would NEVER use handsome for a women... and I think most of the "younger generation" would agree... especially from North America..

    Am I wrong?
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    With all due respect, AngelEyes, you are the only one who is having a strong negative reaction to the word.
    I highly doubt that's why I'm standing here all alone. :(


    Nevertheless, the word is still in use to describe women and it is a complimentary word.
    Go ask your wife, James, if she feels all cuddly and romantic after you tell her she's a handsome woman. I think telling her she's pretty and funny would get you more...


    It is a word used to describe a woman in a complimentary fashion, not necessarily a word used directly to a woman as a compliment. I have no doubt that the opportunity for misunderstanding and insult is very high if we use it to describe AngelEyes, ;) but that is not universally true.
    Uh, yes. Call me ugly, but don't call me handsome.


    Here is a comment posted in the last 24 hours by a woman (ostensibly) in response to a remark about Michelle Obama:
    I went and read that and a person already was warning everybody that word could be taken the wrong way, which is exactly the point I'm trying to make. Why chance it?


    (Michelle Obama) She's very tall, and generously proportioned. Her features suit her build. A delicate face would look wrong on her. I would say she is a "handsome" woman, and I mean that as a compliment to her.
    I have to decline to make any comment about this woman. It wouldn't be a dispassionate reponse.

    But, okay. I accept the fact I'm the lone voice on this one. It's just a humble opinion. :)


    AngelEyes
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    I asked her how it would make her feel to think I thought that about her. She said she'd think she was viewed as a stout, muscular woman who needed a shave.

    Maybe it's just me. Or her.

    So ask a woman you know. And please let me know.
    Considering I am a woman (as it says in my profile), that's a little inflammatory, AngelEyes.

    The word that I personally would use for a "stout, muscular woman who need[s] a shave" is 'mannish'. I'm not saying that no one reacts to 'handsome' this way, but that's not the meaning of 'handsome' I am familiar with. To me, the word clearly indicates someone like Katherine Hepburn.

    I agree that you don't use it to someone's face as a direct compliment, but it's quite common in talking about someone in a favorable way. Here's a fairly typical usage (from an article about Hepburn):

    "Her physical presence was distinctive, her often-imitated voice filled with the vowels of a well-bred New Englander, and her sharp-planed face defined by remarkably high cheekbones. In her youth she did not have classical leading-lady looks, but a handsome beauty."
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9401EED8143AF933A05755C0A9659C8B63
     

    Topsie

    Senior Member
    English-UK
    ...I asked her how it would make her feel to think I thought that about her. She said she'd think she was viewed as a stout, muscular woman who needed a shave. ...
    :eek: My sentiments (almost) entirely!
    For me a handsome woman is definitely post menopausal, carefully groomed (so not in need of a shave!), stout (for some reason handsome implies stout - if not muscular) and people who knew her when she was young would probably remark on how beautiful she was!
    So if not completely negative, then not really a compliment either!
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    I think there is a difference you might be missing, AngelEyes. People are not talking about telling a woman she is handsome, but as describing a woman as such. I find it a very elegant way to say that a woman is not a stereotypical "pretty girl", but that she has a strong, elegant kind of beauty.

    Katherine Hepurn would have been described as "handsome"; Audrey Hepburn, as "pretty".


    EDIT: I left out the "not". :eek:
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Go ask your wife, James, if she feels all cuddly and romantic after you tell her she's a handsome woman. I think telling her she's pretty and funny would get you more...
    I don't know why you insist on continuing down this path. It has been stated by most, if not all, of the "pro-handsome woman" crowd, including me, that the word is used to describe a woman, not used as a direct compliment. You are arguing against a position no one has taken.

    If I write "he was a slim man with delicate features" it is a valid, complimentary description. It is not something I would use in a direct compliment to any man, nor would I expect a woman to say it as a compliment to a man. They are two completely different things.

    Can the word "handsome" be used to describe a woman? Yes. Is it in use still today? Yes (see examples above.) Could it be misconstrued when said directly to a woman, intending it as a compliment? Absolutely. That does not bar its use as a descriptive word with positive overtones.
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    Nope. I've thought about this again and tried to remain detached while I came to my conclusion, and I still feel the same, regardless whether I'm describing someone or saying what I think to her face.

    Or describing a type of woman. If I did use this word about a type of woman, I'd either use it to demean her or to describe her as not feminine-looking. And the point that it would be different if it's used to describe someone as opposed to saying it to someone's face really contains no difference, in my mind. If you say it about someone, you're still dealing with the possibility that it's going to be taken in a negative light, so why take that chance? That's all I'm saying.

    Katherine Hepburn was a proud, regal, striking woman. She was beautiful when she was younger; stunningly imposing and a dramatic beauty when she grew older.

    Golda Meir was a handsome woman.

    This is just my opinion. None of us are wrong.

    AngelEyes
     
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    dNZ

    New Member
    Turkish,English
    The word "Handsome" can also be used in the case instead of the word "Fitting" or "Suited" but these days it rarely is.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Personally, I would not call Golda Meir a handsome woman. As someone said earlier, I would use "mannish" for such a woman.

    From www.m-w.com entry for mannish:

    1 : resembling or suggesting a man rather than a woman
    2 : generally associated with or characteristic of a man rather than a woman <her mannish clothes>

    From www.m-w.com's entry for handsome:

    5: having a pleasing and usually impressive or dignified appearance

    (I would not call Golda Meir's appearance "pleasing", no matter how much I respect the woman's accomplishments.)
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    If you say it about someone, you're still dealing with the possibility that it's going to be taken in a negative light, so why take that chance? That's all I'm saying.
    And what I'm saying is that we shouldn't mislead non-native speakers into thinking that this word isn't used commonly in contexts like the one I quoted before.

    Due to individual dialect variation/background/reading tastes/whatever, there is always a chance that your audience will take something in a negative light when you meant it to be positive. That by itself isn't a good argument for avoiding using a word in the way it's normally used.

    I will say again: The word 'handsome' is used quite frequently in newspapers and other writing of that sort to describe Katherine Hepburn in particular and elegant, striking, regal-looking women in general.

    Yes, there is an element of personal opinion here (whether we'd find it insulting if applied to us), but I really don't think your take on this word reflects how it's most typically used, at least in news media and literature.

    Edited to add: Actually, the definitions on Urban Dictionary are fairly illuminating. (Look not only at what the definitions say but also the tone they're written in, how many votes they have--both positive and negative--and what women they give as examples.)
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Handsome%20Woman
     
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    Tagarela

    Senior Member
    Português - Brasil
    Hi,

    As a non-native speaker, I was learned in English courses that handsome was only for men and for women we should say pretty or beautiful, that is why that passage of Dickens was so remarkable to me.

    Well, by what I have read here in the thread, it seems that the usage of handsome for women is possible, but I do not believe that it is very common, since there is some controversy on it, and it still unknown for many non-native, even for those who have a real good knowledge of English.
    I agree with those that in general it is a positive word, but I also agree that, if you are not very confident about it, you should use another word in order to avoid a misunderstanding.

    I was also wondering if in Britain it is more often used than in USA.

    Good bye.:
     

    Tagarela

    Senior Member
    Português - Brasil
    Hi,

    Whether or not 'handsome' is common now, it was very common in the past. Dickens isn't exactly recent. :)
    Franzi, o, for sure, you are right. But I meant that if it was more common today, I guess that non-native would be more aware of it, and natives would not have quarrels about =)

    Good bye.:
     

    Moon Palace

    Senior Member
    French
    Waow... I wouldn't have imagined my question would raise such a passionate debate. I must admit I am impressed.
    What I retain from all that has been said is that first, it ought not be used in a direct address to a woman, then that although it is used in BE as a compliment on the beauty of a woman, conveying the idea that a woman has class, it is not the case in AE. But I would now be grateful if you could stop arguing about it, I believe the case is clear enough. Yet it reminds me of so many arguments between French people on the different stances on a word, that I wouldn't like to sound like one giving lessons as I myself can feel very strongly too on a given word or phrase.
    Anyway, thanks to all of you for very precious inputs. I really appreciate. :)
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Please do yourself a favor and do not refer to women as handsome in the USA. You don't seem smart for doing so.
    Actually, I would say the opposite. The most common present-day settings for "handsome" are in literature and journalism. If anything, it is a marker of a literary or journalistic bent, in my opinion. I would not expect it in everyday conversation.

    What I retain from all that has been said is that first, it ought not be used in a direct address to a woman, then that although it is used in BE as a compliment on the beauty of a woman, conveying the idea that a woman has class, it is not the case in AE.
    I think you have misunderstood. Several current examples have been quoted in AE writing, both in literature and the general press. It is not a word that would be used as a direct compliment to a woman in AE. That much is agreed. However, it would not be out of place in a magazine article, a newspaper column, or a book in AE as a complimentary description of a woman, despite some personal preferences.
     
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    JudgeX

    New Member
    English - American
    Actually, I would say the opposite. The most common present-day settings for "handsome" are in literature and journalism. If anything, it is a marker of a literary or journalistic bent, in my opinion. I would not expect it in everyday conversation.
    Actually, you came close to grasping my point, but missed it, I think. What I was conveying is that if you use the word "handsome" to describe a woman, it draws more focus on your poor choice of words than it does on the actual subject you're trying to compliment. The mind of the American reader/listener often then goes into a loop of trying to figure out why you used the word handsome (perhaps you're foreign and don't realize that in the states we use that for guys, which is cool, or... the negative idea that maybe you're intentionally using poor word choice in an attempt to mark yourself journalistic or literary.)

    In other words, do yourself a favor and just avoid it, when you have a plethora of other words and phrases that can mean exactly the same thing, without carrying the "faux-literate" or "possibly pretentious" connotation. Since you're NOT from the 1920's-1960's, writing a book in that era... and you're NOT from a country that still uses that word in that way, you're only going to earn yourself undue attention.
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    the negative idea that maybe you're intentionally using poor word choice in an attempt to mark yourself journalistic or literary.)
    Or using apt word choice in an attempt to not sound folksy and pseudo-populist?


    There have already been examples given of contemporary uses of 'handsome' as applied to women in AE. We've also gone over the connotations of the word and the contexts where it's appropriate and inappropriate. We've also established that AE speakers don't agree on how dated or how insulting the word is.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    What I was conveying is that if you use the word "handsome" to describe a woman, it draws more focus on your poor choice of words than it does on the actual subject you're trying to compliment.
    "Handsome" is a perfectly acceptable word in American English (certainly in American English as spoken by educated adult speakers) when describing a certain type of attractive woman, and there is nothing whatsoever about the word that would make its choice "poor", other than the possibility that the woman described is not, in fact, handsome. There is no reason to avoid this perfectly suitable word.
     
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