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A pair of standard law enforcement handcuffs.


1640, from hand +‎ cuff (end of shirtsleeve).[1]

Possibly an adaptation of Middle English handcops (shackles for the hand, handcuffs), from Old English handcops, from hand + cops, cosp (fetter, chains), but due to lack of continuity (centuries between Old English and modern term), generally analyzed as a re-invention.[1]


  • IPA(key): /ˈhændˌkʌf/
  • (file)


handcuff (plural handcuffs)

  1. (rarely singular) One ring of a locking fetter for the hand or one pair.
    Synonyms: manacle, wristlet


Derived terms[edit]


Handcuffed inmate


handcuff (third-person singular simple present handcuffs, present participle handcuffing, simple past and past participle handcuffed)

  1. To apply handcuffs to
    • 1912, Arthur M. Winfield, The Rover Boys in the Air:
      The sheriff had brought along all the handcuffs necessary, and in a few seconds he had handcuffed Koswell. He threw a pair of the steel bracelets to Dick and another pair to Tom, and the Rovers had the satisfaction of handcuffing Josiah Crabtree and Tad Sobber. Then the sheriff made prisoners of the rest of the crowd []
  2. (figuratively) to restrain or restrict.
    Dang, I’m handcuffed by these regulations. I’d like to help but it’d be illegal.
    • 2016 February 20, “Obituary: Antonin Scalia: Always right”, in The Economist:
      If he were a king, as his swagger and opera-singing occasionally suggested, he would stretch the constitution any way he wanted. In fact, as he admitted with a grin, it handcuffed him.
    • 1880, George Bernard Shaw, chapter XVII, in The Irrational Knot:
      After all, since our marriage has proved a childless one, the only reason for our submitting to be handcuffed to one another, now that our hearts are no longer in the arrangement, is gone.




  1. 1.0 1.1 Douglas Harper (2001–2024), “handcuff”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.