"I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold blades of scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off one my thick braids."

I know the general meaning of gnaw, but I'am not sure if it means the same here, and if it does in what exact sense?

(I have attached the paragraph from which the sentence is taken). Thanks to all who dedicate a small part of their life to help me out here :)

enter image description here


2 Answers 2


Ariane is right and could have posted as an answer.

If you imagine hair, plaited into a thick braid, a pair of scissors isn't going to cut through it in one clean slice. Whoever is wielding the scissors will have to make a number of cuts before they make it through.

The writer is asking you to picture these scissors, opening and shutting like teeth, gradually but persistently cutting their way through the thick braided hair.

  • So, is it metaphorical or literal use of 'gnaw' here? Really really thanks though GGx :) Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 9:17
  • 1
    @RohitShekhawat No problem. That's a good question. A metaphor by definition is 'a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.' I think scissors can bite at something persistently, so I'd say it's literal.
    – GGx
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 9:52
  • You say toliteral, I say tometaphor ...? Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 9:57
  • I say tosimile and you say tohypallage ...
    – GGx
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 10:30
  • What is going on here Will and GGx, I don't understand your conversation? Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 6:23

Here, 'gnaw off' means to slowly and gradually cut off. To provide a perspective, the hair braids can not be cut at once by scissors, so as one starts to cut them they make a sound (which actually sounds like a few hair strands being cut at a time) and eventually (and gradually) they are cut off. I suppose that's why they used the word here.

  • 2
    we posted an almost identical answer at exactly the same time!
    – GGx
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 9:06
  • 2
    What are the odds! :P :)
    – Kshitij
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 9:08
  • 1
    "I don't believe in coincidences" "That's fantastic, neither do I!" Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 9:54
  • By whom are these two separate dialogues supposed to be spoken? Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 6:25
  • If you please, the two separate statements combine to make a 'Di'-alogue, and they are spoken by any good TV detective and his or her trusty smart-Alec side-kick.
    – Elliot
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 4:18

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