Why is it Called a Pair of Scissors?

An assortment of scissors
An assortment of scissors

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.

 

Office Scissors
Office Scissors
Kitchen Scissors/Shears
Kitchen Scissors/Shears
Offset Scissors--also sometimes called 'sheep shear' handled
Offset Scissors--also sometimes called 'sheep shear' handled

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.

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

 

Rusty Scissors
Rusty Scissors

A Fictitious Example

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."

Industrial Scissors--aka--Tin Snips
Industrial Scissors--aka--Tin Snips
EMT/Utility Scissors
EMT/Utility Scissors

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? Ah...there it is: the actual pair. But, still, if it requries 2 blades to do the job, for the tool to operate, then is it truly a plural?

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? Oh, no--there is also a pair of pants! This will require further research. So, if you'll excuse me, the dictionary awaits.

Things to do With Scissors

© 2010 DzyMsLizzy

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Comments 24 comments

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

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.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

@Sally's Trove

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


Christine B. 6 years ago

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


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Thanks, Christine! ;-)


yellowstar2000 profile image

yellowstar2000 6 years ago from WestCoast Florida

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


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Thanks for stopping by, yellowstar2000!

Glad you enjoyed the journey! ;-)


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

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


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

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


Karanda profile image

Karanda 5 years ago from Australia

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!


Farquarh Heppenlooper 4 years ago

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.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Farquarh Heppenlooper--

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


Vinnie "Fat Tomato" Thomasini 4 years ago

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!


Mr. Vincenzo Tomasini 4 years ago

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


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

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... ;-)


Daughter Of Maat profile image

Daughter Of Maat 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

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

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


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

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


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Kevin-

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


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

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.


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL

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 :)


DealForALiving profile image

DealForALiving 2 years ago from Earth

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


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

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.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

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


MPG Narratives profile image

MPG Narratives 22 months ago from Sydney, Australia

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.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 22 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

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!

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    DzyMsLizzy878 Followers
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    Liz has always loved reading and writing, and has been fascinated by language since childhood. Word games are her among favorite type.



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