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Context: in chat elsewhere there was some discussion of an injury I sustained. I posted an image of my post-surgery bandaged hand, which has wires in two of the fingers, and there was a little (humourous) debate about whether it constituted 'gore'.

Merriam-Webster has a definition (#4):

1 : blood; especially : clotted blood 2 : gruesomeness depicted in vivid detail

I wouldn't have considered the image to contain 'gore', though there is a tiny amount of blood visible if you squint hard at it.

Does that little bit qualify the image as gore in common usage? Is it a binary thing where either it's there or it isn't? Or is it a know it when I see it when the term is used? Would a [bad] injury qualify, even if there is no blood? I guess "gruesomeness" is in the eye of the beholder, but I wonder if anyone has drawn a line somewhere.

The image, for reference: 1. Potential gore warning? It's a bandaged right hand with a k-wire in the index and middle finger tips, where a little dried blood can be seen.

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    This is gore.
    – Hot Licks
    May 15, 2018 at 22:47
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    I would say the cut-off is when it becomes gratuitous. One can see footage of a skilful operation conducted by a surgeon and admire the work. One can witness journalistic exposure of the horrors of war and feel empathy for the sufferers. But gratuitous display of bloodshed is merely 'gore' for gore's sake.
    – Nigel J
    May 16, 2018 at 0:33
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    @user Augh! Why was this closed as opinion based? It is not opinion, it is vague. ELU is expressly a place to, among many things, to extract the subtle meanings of words that others places haven't. One can authoritatively answer this question as long as it states the variability in the threshold. All words have vague thresholds (some less than others).
    – Mitch
    May 18, 2018 at 16:03
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    Answer (to be a true answer when this question is reopened): All words are vague and contextual: this person is tall around friends but very short among basketball players. That person played basketball for college, signed a contract with the Knicks, but quit to become a monk - 'are' they a 'basketball player'? 'Gore' has been defined by a lexicographer to be some particular thing, but things more or less match the definition. It is only in mathematical/scientific language where things are exactly definitive (law language is problematic)...
    – Mitch
    May 20, 2018 at 19:22
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    ... The quality of 'goreness' depends on how messy the blood is. A surgical site is not really considered gore because of how neat they keep things. The back room of a butcher's shop is not particularly gory, as long as they keep to health standards. The back room of a cannibalistic mass-murdering teenager is very gory, all the body parts strewn about the room, blood spatter on the wall, they can't even hit the close hamper with their socks. A bucket of blood is not gory, but throwing a bucket of blood, along with severed body parts, is.
    – Mitch
    May 20, 2018 at 19:25

3 Answers 3

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The OP says, of his post surgical finger:

there is a tiny amount of blood visible if you squint hard at it.

This is not gore. The OED, in its examples, makes it clear that, to be gory, there has to be a lot of gore:

2.....(a) Blood in the thickened state that follows effusion. In poetical language often: Blood shed in carnage. †In early use occasionally blood and gore, bloody gore

1563 W. Baldwin et al. Myrrour for Magistrates (new ed.) Hastings xxviii A Souldyours handes must oft be dyed with goare ........

1848 E. Bulwer-Lytton Harold I. iii. ii. 181 Red with gore was the spear of the prelate of London

In the OED's definition of gore of blood (same link), the OP's post surgical finger is far from qualifying:

b. (all) (in) a (or one) gore of blood: bathed in or besmeared with blood. (Cf. gore blood n. 2) Obs.......

1766 H. Brooke Fool of Quality I. iv. 147 From their forehead to their shoes, they were in one gore of blood........

1824 Examiner 15/1 Lying on the ground in a gore of blood

Two users voted to close the OP's question as being opinion based. Nonsense! To repeat, the OED is quite clear, to be gory, there has to be a lot of gore. Oh, sure, there is an effete wimp somewhere who will look at the post surgical finger and shudder "Eeeww, how gory!", but there are outliers on everything.

The OP asks, and we will assume he intended the pun:

Is there a cutoff

Again, from the definition and examples in the OED, one can infer that, although there is no sharp cutoff, a hand can be covered with gore, but not a single finger.

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  • Missed the Bulwer-Lytton reference when I first read this answer!
    – bertieb
    Jun 2, 2018 at 0:02
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The second meaning in the Merriam-Webster reference you provided has nothing to do with blood:

2 : gruesomeness depicted in vivid detail

To understand the second meaning, look at the definition of gruesomeness:

inspiring horror or repulsion : GRISLY · gruesome stories of wounded comrades

Here, it's not blood that's relevant, but wounds that, the viewing (or hearing) of which, cause people discomfort.

So, to answer your question, yes, a wound without blood can be considered gruesome. And, by extension, if we go by the Merriam-Webster definition, it can also be gory.

However, it's likely that's not how people commonly use the two words. I suspect that people (unless they refer to Merriam-Webster) expect gore to include blood. (Although, ironically, the phrase "blood and gore" implies that they are two different things—because, if they weren't, it would be redundant.) It's certainly more likely that those in the UK would expect blood since it seems that's the only relevant definition in the Oxford dictionary.

But, regardless of whether your picture was gory, or merely gruesome (to some), your warning was warranted. ;)

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All words are vague and contextual: this person is tall around friends but very short among basketball players. That person played basketball for college, signed a contract with the Knicks, but quit to become a monk - 'are' they a 'basketball player'?

'Gore' (and all words for that matter) has been defined by a lexicographer to be some particular thing, and that is a (learned) attempt at reflecting common usage, but things only more or less match the definition.

It is only in mathematical/scientific language where things are exactly definitive (law language is problematic; sometimes exact and technically rule-based, but also exploited by language's natural amphiboly). The quality of 'goreness' depends on how much and how messy the blood is. A surgical site is not really considered gore because of how neat they keep things; the bio-disposal bin next to the operating table for extra left over pieces is a literal bucket of gore, an omelette of body parts and blood.

But what the cutoff is for any particular word depends on the word and the context. For 'gore', a drop of blood is not gory, but then some people are squeamish.

So a finger cut is not gory but a bucket of bloody body parts is. Where is the exact cut off, that's up to you and circumstances.


A side note: dictionary definitions are not mathematical truths. Words and meanings are slippery and change over time. Sure, we depend on stability to be able to communicate, but over time, things can change. A rock is hard, but in geologic time it's like soup. A lexicographer may write (with educated accuracy) a definition they think everyone should follow, but there's no guarantee.


OMG just looked at the picture...are you OK? Are those metal rods coming ... out of your knuckles? Anyway, the dressing that needs to be changed is definitely gross, but is not gory. If you opened it up and exposed all the... ew... stuff, it might get a little gory. For me, to be gory, there's gotta be some exposed flesh with fresh blood.

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