If you have German friends, you may have heard them talking about their Handy. Although this device is in fact a handy accessory, it has a very different meaning in German than in English. In German, the word Handy means “mobile phone” or “cell phone”. Many Germans seem to believe that this word comes from the English language, but – as you know – Americans do not use this word to describe their cell phones. Although it sounds exactly like the English word handy (which means “convenient”), it is probably not related to the English adjective (although Handys are, of course, convenient to have). The origins of the German word Handy are unclear and there are various speculations on how the word arose. Some believe that it came from the word Handfunktelefon (an early German word for a handheld mobile phone). Others believe the word originates from the Motorola HT 220 Handie Talkie – a type of walkie-talkie that was introduced during World War II.
But regardless of its origins, the term Handy is so commonly used today that most Germans won’t call their cell phones anything else. Words such as Mobiltelefon are way too old-fashioned.
By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany