Why is it always "gnash one's teeth"? Is anything else ever gnashed?


The word "gnash" is specifically used only in terms of the teeth.

From Dictionary.com:

verb (used with object)

  1. to grind or strike (the teeth) together, especially in rage or pain.

  2. to bite with grinding teeth.

verb (used without object)

  1. to gnash the teeth.

From my experience, I don't think this term can be utilised in any other fashion. Additionally, I have never seen it used another way. It is likely a term that evolved specifically to describe the action. It is also possibly onomatopoeia for the sound of teeth grinding together or the vocalised noise one sometimes makes while performing the action.

  • OED does have an example with jagged ice floes gnashing. But even then presumably because they are like teeth. – GEdgar Nov 24 '11 at 3:18
  • Ah, yes, I had forgotten about the OED, thanks for the reminder. I'll check that out later. – Seiaeka Nov 24 '11 at 3:31
  • 1
    In its etymology of gnash, MW notes "probably of imitative origin," so your speculation about gnash being onomatopoeic is spot on. – Gnawme Nov 24 '11 at 5:52

I've heard it used in relation to gearboxes in cars, for example a person not used to driving with a clutch might 'gnash the gears' while changing.

  • 4
    Of course, the gears have teeth... – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Nov 24 '11 at 16:38
  • In general, it's used where a biting or chewing motion is implied in a destructive sense. I've heard people use it when referencing gears, wood chippers, shredders, etc. – Polynomial Nov 24 '11 at 17:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.