There are various terms used to refer to a mobile phone in different places around the world. Some of them include: handset, handy phone, cellular phone, and cordless phone, among others. Dive in for some fun information.

Handset, Handy, Handyphone, Cellphone, Cordless, Wireless, and other names people around the world call mobile phones

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The world of telephones was once dominated by desk phones that were made up of a base and a part that you would pick up and hold to your ear/head. That part you hold to your head is what was originally called a handset.

The earliest telephones had rotary dials with the digits arranged in a circular layout that rotated by your finger action. To dial a number, you would place your finger on the digit you wanted and rotate the dial till it stopped, then release it and repeat the same process with each number till you were done. Tedious, I know. Mrs. Mo and I communicated using one like that back when we were dating. Did I hear you call me old? I’m cancelling you…

old school corded telephone with handset
Old school corded telephones with handset

Anyway, rotary dials later gave way to push button desk telephones (like the blue one in the image above). The push button desk phones were easier to use, of course. You simply push the buttons like you do on your smartphone today.

At some point in the telephone historical timeline, mobile or wireless phones came into existence. They had no cables and communication happen wirelessly through telecom cellular towers. By reason of their mobile nature, they do not have the traditional base of desk telephones. Mobile phones have only one part that combined all the functions of old school desk telephones. Since you hold up a mobile phone to your head during a telephone call, a lot of people just referred to them as handsets too. They were in your hand, after all.

Cellular or Cell Phones

I do not think that people in the United States of America and Canada generally refer to cell phones as “handsets”. You would rather hear them called “cellular” or “cell” phones. This holds for many South American countries as well. Sometimes, the phrase “wireless phone” is used as well.

Mobile Phones

The phrase, “mobile phone”, is more commonly used in countries like the United Kingdom (UK), much of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

In countries like Nigeria, Ghana, as well as in certain Asian countries, among others, quite a number of mobile phone users – perhaps mostly Gen X – still use the term, “handset”. However, you will find a mix of usage with other terms like “mobile phone” and “cell phone” here and there.

Handy, HandyPhones, or Cordless Phones

In China, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, as well as in some European countries like Germany and the Netherlands, you will still hear some people call their mobile phones “handyphones”, “handy phones”, or just a “handy”. The phrase “cordless phones” is quite commonly used in Germany.

Gigaset Handset
A Gigaset Handset or cordless phone, commonly found in Germany and the Netherlands

Handsets

The word, “handset”, is one of the many valid terminologies used in referring to mobile phones in different places around the world. Being Gen X myself, I do not flinch or wonder when I hear someone say the word. In the early 2000s, it was a common word used for mobile phones when many of us first got introduced to them. It is doubtful that any Gen Y or Z individuals will be caught dead referring to a smartphone as a handset. They were born and grew up in the age of iPhones and Android smartphones, and would probably think that the word “handset” is funny.

The world is quite a diverse place, and there is a colourful mix of terminologies to enjoy, if you pay attention.

Some of these terms are fading or dying out faster than others. But, if you hear anyone call their smartphones, a “handset”, calm down and smile; they are not coo coo or anything of the sort. They just likely grew up in a different dispensation from you.

What other words or phrases have you heard mobile phones called around you?

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