My native language is Malay and I use the word "handphone" the whole time. Even when speaking in Malay, the Malay equivalent "telefon bimbit" sounds stiff.

This word is found in Lexico and marked South East Asian:

South East Asian
A mobile phone

As far as I know, BrE and AmE speakers use "mobile phone" and "cell phone", respectively. So I'd like to know what native speakers feel about this word "handphone".

Here's an example from Lexico:

The idea is to prove to the big boys that it can be done, and that consumers can live with a handphone and mobile Internet.

Here are a few questions I'd like to ask:

  1. Is this idiomatic to BrE and AmE speakers?
  2. Can I use it in my thesis or term paper?
  3. Is it best avoided?
  • 1
    I had no clear idea what handphone meant (I've never heard the word before) until I got to the South East Asian definition referenced in the question. It was completely new to me. Granted, I am probably a poor representative of the common person (as is any single person), but my personal opinion would be to assume it would cause puzzlement for most people, or at least sound awkward. Unless, perhaps, you actually live in South East Asia … Jul 29, 2020 at 5:47

1 Answer 1

  1. In AmE, this is not idiomatic. It made me think of a cell phone operated by crank or something ;)
    I'm not as familiar with BrE, but I imagine it is also not idiomatic in BrE either. We can take a look at Ngram for clues: (handphone: eng_gb_2019),(cell phone: eng_gb_2019),(mobile phone: eng_gb_2019).

enter image description here

Just out of curiosity, I took a look at AmE books: (handphone: eng_us_2019),(cell phone: eng_us_2019),(mobile phone: eng_us_2019) enter image description here

So in either case, handphone is hardly used.

  1. and 3. Just keep your audience in mind. If you know your audience uses handphone and they're comfortable with that, then use that. If it's an international audience, use cell phone or mobile phone Either one will be understood.
  • How about "handset"?
    – Apollyon
    Jul 29, 2020 at 2:18
  • I don't really recognize that as meaning "cell phone". I feel like that's something else, but my research suggests that some call it "handset". Still, I would say that's uncommon in my experience.
    – Em.
    Jul 29, 2020 at 2:28
  • @Apollyon - The handset is the part of a conventional landline phone that you hold up to your ear/mouth. Sep 2, 2022 at 15:44

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