scissors

Scissors are hand-operated shearing tools, used for cutting cloth, paper, string, and other thin material. Many varieties exist.

A pair of scissors consists of a pair of metal blades pivoted so that the sharpened edges slide against each other when the handles are closed. Modern scissors are often designed ergonomically with composite thermoplastic and rubber handles which enable the user to exert either a power grip or a precision grip. There are also right-handed and left-handed scissors.

Some scissors have an appendage, called a finger brace or finger tang, below the index finger hole for the middle finger to rest on to provide for better control and more power in precision cutting. A finger tang can be found on many quality scissors and especially on scissors for cutting hair.

The earliest known scissors appeared in Mesopotamia 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. However, pivoted scissors of bronze or iron, in which the blades were pivoted at a point between the tips and the handles, the direct ancestor of modern scissors, were invented by the Romans around 100 CE.

Pivoted scissors were not manufactured in large numbers until 1761, when Robert Hinchliffe produced the first pair of modern-day scissors made of hardened and polished cast steel. He lived in London, and was reputed to be the first person who put out a signboard proclaiming himself “fine scissor manufacturer.”

What intrigued me is the term “pair of scissors” when the instrument is obviously singular.

However, I found out that “scissors” is an example of a plurale tantum, an English word that only has a plural form representing a singular object. Though pluralia tantum name single objects, they are grammatically plural: “the scissors are on the table,” or “my pants are in the dryer.”

Then we began calling an individual scissors “a pair” to emphasize the matched cutting blades. This is now the standard designation for any concrete noun that is a plurale tantum: a pair of glasses/pants/trousers/goggles/scissors/shears/tweezers, and so on.

The pluralia tantum for cutting implements have, as a group, also been adapted into verbs that are based on a nonexistent singular (just to be confusing). For example: “she tweezed her eyebrows.”

It’s no wonder that immigrants are overwhelmed by this weird language. English is my native tongue and I’m still confused.

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