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

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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

Etymology

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

Comments

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on November 23, 2014:

Hi there, MPG Narratives..

I'm so pleased that you enjoyed this article. It was a lot of fun to write.

Kids can be so doggoned literal, can't they?!?!

Thanks for the vote and share!

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on November 23, 2014:

What a fun hub. I tend to say "pair of scissors" and my kids will give me two of them. English is such a funny language isn't it. Thanks for the laughs today, it's nice to take a break and have a laugh. :-) Oh, voted up and shared too.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on September 01, 2014:

Hello, DealForALiving,

Thanks for your comment. I'm pleased you liked this article. I'm not sure why you did not think of it--I failed "ESP 101." LOL

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on September 01, 2014:

LOL, Sunshine!

I think I usually say, "Hand me the scissors," but on the other hand, I might say, "I need a pair of scissors." Inconsistency is my greatest constant. ;-)

Thanks so much for your kind comment--I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Nick Deal from Earth on September 01, 2014:

I'm so fascinated with how you thought about this. Why didn't I think of it?

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on September 01, 2014:

I will never look at scissors the same way again. I think we do say pair of scissors in my household on occasion...I highly doubt we ever will again. I will think of you when ever I hear some one say pair of scissors :)

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on September 01, 2014:

Daughter of Maat--

Oh, my goodness--my deepest apologies for missing your comment. I'm not sure how that happened, but perhaps it was during the time I was having some computer issues. Shame on me for taking 2 years to reply to your charming and gracious comment!

I'm so glad you did enjoy this article, however. Many, many thanks for stopping by.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on September 01, 2014:

Hello, Kevin-

I'm glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks so much for the vote, share and pin!

The Examiner-1 on September 01, 2014:

I never thought about it I just said, or used, the scissors - pliers, whatever. I never studied either of them but since they are two pieces which are always screwed, or riveted, together then perhaps one is a scissor, and maybe that is why they are called a "pair of scissors". I voted this up, shared and pinned it.

Kevin

Melissa Flagg COA OSC from Rural Central Florida on April 12, 2012:

lmao.... wait, still laughing...lmao....

This was great. I scared my hubby everytime I laughed out loud.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on November 07, 2011:

Hello, Vinnie--

Thanks for that bit of input..LOL. And thank you very much for the compliment on the art...I do love photography, which is an art form... ;-)

Mr. Vincenzo Tomasini on November 06, 2011:

P.S. My Dear Ms. Lizzy -- In my opinion you art-work is the TOPS!

Vinnie "Fat Tomato" Thomasini on November 06, 2011:

With a little creative bookkeeping, "Scizzors" is the same as "Paradox" in that each is a multiple on the lamm as a singular, with "Paradox" simply being a "Para (aka 'Pair of') Dox (aka 'Docks')," while "Scizzors" is what Heppenlooper already said about it, thus neutalizing the "Paradox of Scizzors" into zilch!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on November 02, 2011:

Hello, Farquarh Heppenlooper--

Well, well, well! Imagine that! Thank you very much for that tidy tidbit. That makes sense. Your input is appreciated.

Farquarh Heppenlooper on November 02, 2011:

I think this will solve the mystery: Originally, a knife was refered to as a "Scizzor." Then, someone had the idea of putting two scizzors together and, over time, they evolved into what they are now.

Karen Wilton from Australia on March 10, 2011:

You certainly have a way with words. My father (English is not his first language) uses the word scissor in the singular. We corrected him that many times he started to say snips instead!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on August 03, 2010:

Indeed, Micky Dee--short/shorts pant/pants. Waitaminit--isn't 'pant' what a dog does when it's hot?

Micky Dee on August 03, 2010:

I put on my shorts? I put on a short?

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on July 31, 2010:

Thanks for stopping by, yellowstar2000!

Glad you enjoyed the journey! ;-)

Candice Collins from WestCoast Florida on July 19, 2010:

love this hub! I always enjoy learning something and being entertained at the same time, thanks for offering both!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on July 17, 2010:

Thanks, Christine! ;-)

Christine B. on July 17, 2010:

Very funny--and it reminds me a lot of a George Carlin routine. Ha-Ha.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on July 16, 2010:

@Sally's Trove

Thank you so much for your visit and kind words! I've checked out your Hubs, as well, and followed you! ;-)

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on July 16, 2010:

I must be the 1 out of 4; when I need scissors, I'll just say, "Give me the scissors," forget the pair!

I wonder if there is a British English use that goes like this, "Hand me the scissor, dear." Somehow, that's ringing a bell, although a far-off one.

"Scissor" in the singular is used not only as a verb, but also as an adjective, as you illustrated with the "scissor formation".

Lizzy, I've typed scissor so much now, that I'm getting dizzy. What a fun Hub...and brain cell stimulating, too. Discussions on etymology and syntax can be so dull, but you bring life to them.

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