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Alteration (due to breadth) of Middle English handbrede, hondbrede (handbreadth), from Old English handbred (palm of the hand) and handbrǣd, handbrǣdu (width of the hand, handbreadth), equivalent to hand +‎ breadth. Cognate with Saterland Frisian Houndebratte (handbreadth), West Frisian hânbreedte (handbreadth), Dutch handbreedte (handbreadth), German Handbreite (handbreadth), Swedish handsbredd (handbreadth), Norwegian håndsbredd (handbreadth), Icelandic handbreidd (handbreadth).


handbreadth (plural handbreadths)

  1. A space equal to the breadth of the hand; a palm.
    • 1611, King James Version of the Bible, Psalm 39.5,[1]
      Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee:
    • 1847, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Chapter 23,[2]
      [] I saw the library casement open a handbreadth; I knew I might be watched thence; so I went apart into the orchard.
    • 1928, D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Garden City, NY: Nelson Doubleday, Chapter 14, p. 219,[3]
      She followed him into the scullery, and combed her hair before the handbreadth of mirror by the back door.