A barber generally keeps on snipping the scissors in between the actual cuts. There is a particular phrase for this behavior. I have come across this phrase before, but can't recollect it now. The phrase was a generic term for such involuntary acts and the barber's one was a good example for it. The closest I can some up with now is "fidgeting", but I don't think that was the word. Two close phrases I came across today are "muscle memory" and "automaticity"

  • I always thought they were clearing their scissors from stray hairs. They don't continually snip all the while they have scissors in their hands, so I wouldn't have thought it was muscle memory. Jul 12, 2019 at 17:42
  • Would this be similar to how people hammering at an anvil often hit the target, then bounce off the anvil, then hit the target again?
    – Davo
    Jul 12, 2019 at 17:49
  • @Davo There seems to be a real reason for doing that, not just a fidget. Jul 12, 2019 at 17:51
  • Blacksmiths do this to keep rhythm. If they need to think about where to hit it next, they tap the anvil until they are ready Jul 15, 2019 at 4:41
  • "A barber generally keeps on snipping the scissors in between the actual cuts." - They do? Not in my experience as a customer. (I'm assuming I would have noticed, given that scissors make a noise, and I'm generally watching them in the mirror the whole time.)
    – nnnnnn
    Aug 13, 2019 at 2:42

3 Answers 3


How about "idling the scissors"? "Idling" is typically used in conjunction with cars or motors for running without a load, so while it is not the professional term, it's pretty idiomatic. If it is supposed to free the scissors from cut hair, "clearing the scissors" would probably work.

I think the actual motivation is that the screw in professional scissors is self-adjusting, so if you cut a number of thick strands in succession, it might become too loose for good cutting. Clattering the scissors "without load" would serve to readjust the tension.

So another word that might match the purpose is "priming" the scissors.

  • Welcome to ELU. You can make suggestions but they should include a reference that shows their validity. And, good answers usually stick to one suggestion at a time.
    – David M
    Sep 8, 2019 at 17:35

Tics, perhaps? (This is often part of 'nervous tics', though not all tics are nervous ones.)

It sounds like a complex motor tic.

(Edited to clarify "nervous" and link to definition.)

  • Is that word actually used to describe this? Almost all barbers seem to do this, and it seems unlikely that they're all nervous about their work. Dec 3, 2017 at 23:04
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby: Although tic doesn't necessarily indicate nervousness. Not that we'd know this from the answer, since there's no actual definition or reference.
    – Zack
    Jul 12, 2019 at 17:19

It sounds like this action is similar to dry firing a weapon.

Dry firing is done for a variety of reasons. Often, it is done for the purpose of maintaining a movement without making a flinch.

In the case of a barber, they're dry snipping the scissors in order to maintain their rhythm and muscle memory for the action.

However, you may also be misinterpreting their actions. They're often point cutting which is a means of thinning out the ends of the hair or snipping away strays after making their main cuts.

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