Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Archaic A handclasp used to signify a pledge, such as a contract or marriage.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A hold, grasp; custody, power of confining or keeping.
  • n. A contract, agreement, covenant ; specifically betrothal, espousal.
  • v. To pledge; to bind
  • v. To betroth by joining hands, in order to allow cohabitation before the celebration of marriage; to marry provisionally.
  • adj. Fast by contract; betrothed by joining hands.
  • adj. Strong; steadfast.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Fast by contract; betrothed by joining hands.
  • adj. Strong; steadfast.
  • n. Hold; grasp.
  • n. Custody; power of confining or keeping.
  • n. A contract; specifically, an espousal.
  • transitive v. To pledge; to bind.
  • transitive v. To betroth by joining hands, in order to permit cohabitation, before the formal celebration of marriage; in some parts of Scotland it was in effect to marry provisionally, permitting cohabitation for a year, after which the marriage could be formalized or dissolved.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To take or hold with the hand; hold securely or firmly; grasp.
  • To join together by or as if by the clasping of hands; make fast; bind; specifically, to betroth.
  • In some parts of Scotland, formerly, to marry provisionally by the ceremony of joining hands.
  • Having a close hand; close-fisted.
  • Bound by pledge, promise, or contract; especially, betrothed, or united as if by betrothal.
  • In Scotland, formerly, joined in provisional wedlock.
  • n. Grip; grasp; hold.
  • n. Custody; power of confining or keeping; a holding on security or bail.
  • n. A pledge, promise, or contract; especially, betrothal.

Etymologies

From Middle English hondfast, past participle of hondfesten, to betroth, from Old Norse handfesta, to strike a bargain, pledge : hönd, hand + festa, to fasten, fix, affirm; see past- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Middle English hondfast, past participle of hondfesten 'to betroth', from Old Norse handfesta 'to strike a bargain, pledge', itself from hönd 'hand' + festa 'to fasten, fix, affirm' (compare see past- in Indo-European roots). (Wiktionary)
German Handfest, itself from Hand 'hand' + fest 'firm, strong'. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • It seemed he had been married twice before, in a manner of speaking: he had been "handfast" to Janet Beaton, and had lived in common-law marriage with the Norwegian woman.

    Mary Queen Of Scotland And The Isles

  • He wanted her to handfast with him so that he could protect her from the Cursed Ones.

    Crusade

  • I gave the following quote: In the deliciously epic Bitter Night, Diana Pharaoh Francis has married the Charles de Lint-style old school urban fantasy to the new college of asskickery in a pagan-pirate handfast.

    Ann Aguirre » Blog Archive » 2nd Skin Game Book Orgy

  • They capture Jack and take him to their clan laird, Carson Beal who forces his prisoner to handfast with his troublemaking niece, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Drummond Beal in order to avoid her possible marriage with Gavin Gordon.

    Highland Scandal-Julia London « The Merry Genre Go Round Reviews

  • I'm still working on it, but I'll tell you this much: The heroine, Ailish is a blind witch handfasted to a demon and must find a way to break the handfast or she will die.

    Welcome Jennifer Lyon!

  • So now you're sort of handfast with God, is that it?

    A Breath of Snow and Ashes

  • It's not a marriage, exactly-but you can make them handfast-

    A Breath of Snow and Ashes

  • The fact remained that if he got her into bed, she was his, handfast or wed in a church—it mattered not.

    Tempted by Your Touch

  • Rather than go through with a betrothal and marriage ceremony, why not handfast?

    Tempted by Your Touch

  • In the Isles and the remoter parts of the Highlands, where folk were a long way from the nearest minister, a man and a woman now would be handfast; vowed to each other for a year and a day.

    Drums of Autumn

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