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Why is it Called a Pair of Scissors? (Humor)

Words, wordplay, reading, and writing have been favorites of Liz's since early childhood. She enjoys exploring science and science fiction.

Paradox--in this case, Perhaps, "Pair-A-Dox"??

Along with the many other oddball inconsistencies in the English language, I believe that "scissors" is one of the strangest.

"Hand me the scissors." It ends in 's.' Normally, an ending 's' indicates a plural. Not the case here. "Hand me a scissor " is not the proper form of the request. How odd. Odder still: it comes in pairs while remaining a singleton. One pair of scissors! Huh? What's up with that?!

There are two of things that come in pairs. Yet, half of a pair of scissors is a broken tool; pretty much useless for anything but a letter opener. How many of us even use letter openers these days? Offices tend to have electronic envelope slitters; those of us at home frequently use the one-finger-rip method. The result looks as if a dinosaur might have helped.

According to an article in "Wiktionary" some folks will say, "a scissors" while most prefer the more familiar, "a pair of scissors" by about a 4:1 ratio.

An assortment of scissors

An assortment of scissors


There are other interesting things in the etymology of the word. As with many of our modern English words, its roots go back to old Latin. One of the derivatives is about as far removed from 'scissors' as it could possibly be: "caedere" meaning to cut. Hmmm...that Latin word brings to mind our modern word 'cadaver,' rather than scissors. Ugh. Now I have a mental picutre of an autopsy!

The only time 'scissor' is used in a singular form is as a verb, 'to scissor,' being a cutting action taken, and not a reference to the tool. In this usage, it could well be any kind of cutting manuever, not necessarily a literal cutting. Perhaps two cowboys might use a scissor formation/action in cutting one of a number of cattle from a herd.

The other example of the singular-form usage: there are also auto jacks and heavy-duty lifting equipment that use the same crossed-blades or struts over a pivot point, called, not surprisingly, 'scissor jacks' or 'scissor lifts.' But I digress.

Scissor Lift

A scissor lift is one way to work safely at heights above the ground that might be shaky on a ladder

A scissor lift is one way to work safely at heights above the ground that might be shaky on a ladder

A Fictitious Example

Now, the problem comes up when there are duplicates. How can you tell? Let's take a sneak peek into an imaginary court case:

Prosecutor: "Your honor, the defendant stabbed the victim with a pair of scissors."

Defense Attorney: "Are you certain it was a pair, and not just one?"

P: "It is always a pair."

D: "Your honor, the State is trying to muddy the issue with semantics."

Judge: "This courtroom is not the place for English lessons."

P: "It is imperative in reaching an accurate verdict that precise words are used."

D: "It is imprecise to claim a pair of weapons where only one may have been allegedly used."

J: "Both of you will step into my chambers. Now. Court is in recess."

How Many??

It is, indeed a very confusing word. Now, what if you have 20 pairs of scissors? Is that 40 in total, because each has 2 blades included?

While the language constantly gets modified by usage, there are some things that stubbornly hold fast to their original form, and refuse to budge. It seems that scissors is one among these.

Uh oh--I just had a thought: the same seems to hold true for pliers! Just how many of these false pairs of things are there, anyway? Let's see--there is also a pair of pants; a pair of eyeglasses; a pair of tongs!!

This will require further research. So, if you'll excuse me, the dictionary awaits.

© 2010 Liz Elias