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You take something in your hand (e.g. a cross) and then wrap your fingers around it. In other words, you hold the object in your fist. What would be the best way to describe that (in US English)?

  • You clench the cross in your fist.
  • You clasp the cross in your fist.
  • Or something entirely different?

I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Edit: One user asked for more context. Although I am actually looking for a word that would work in all scenarios, I was thinking about a religious person, who clenches (clasps? grasps?) a cross whenever (s)he prays.

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  • 4
    You grasp the cross!
    – user66974
    May 9, 2017 at 19:49
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    You clutch the cross! May 9, 2017 at 19:51
  • Clench is when you hold your fingers in your palm as if to hit someone. So like Josh, grasp is what I would use. "The elephant grasped the branch with its trunk." May 9, 2017 at 20:20
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    I'm not crazy about 'clasp' or 'grasp', but 'clench' does imply, in my opinion, that you are holding/grasping the object with a lot of force which you may not intend.
    – John
    May 9, 2017 at 20:26
  • Coil your fingers around the cross. May 9, 2017 at 23:07

2 Answers 2

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There's quite a few English words beginning with /kl/ that will work here.
It turns out that kl- is the assonance (initial cluster) that tends to mean 'together'.

51% (43 of 84) of the English simplex words beginning with that cluster (mostly spelled 'CL' instead of 'KL') refer to a very primal semantic sense of "contiguous; connect". Of these, at least the following transitive verbs work in this context:

  • clasp, clench, clinch, clutch, clamp, cling (to), cleave (to)

Many of the words in this class aren't transitive verbs, of course. And there is more than grasping involved. 21 of the 43 'connect' words refer to connection by impact, e.g,

  • clamp, clash, clobber, clout, club

and 11 of these refer to noises made by such impacts, i.e, actual onomatopoeia. E.g,

  • clap, clomp, clatter, clamor, clink

It's quite an amazing display of phonosemantics.
In fact, it's clear enough to make a neat Venn Diagram.

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  • Thanks for this extensive answer! Clearly there are many options, but which one do you think would work best (in the context of the question)? May 10, 2017 at 13:00
  • And, of course, a cluster is brought together.
    – Andrew Leach
    May 10, 2017 at 13:03
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    That is a very interesting paper linked at the bottom. Thank you.
    – Davo
    May 10, 2017 at 14:23
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Or you can use grip e.g. I gripped the clutch.

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  • "You gripped the clutch"? :) Wouldn't a better example be with an object that itself isn't a synonym for 'grip'? Funny, if that's what you meant though.
    – John
    May 9, 2017 at 20:25
  • Grip does imply control. May 9, 2017 at 23:06

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