Bookshelp header image for page World Wide Words logo

Within a gnat’s ...

Q From Doug Dew: A friend of mine uses a colourful phrase: within a gnat’s ..., meaning very close-fitting. Any ideas on the origin of this term?

A Various phrases of the type have been known in the US for at least 160 years to indicate something very small. The first example I found is cited by John Lighter in the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang from 1840: gnat’s heel, a very small amount. Others are gnat’s eyebrow, gnat’s ass (“Fine enough to split the hairs on a gnat’s ass”), and fit to a gnat’s heel, for something that fits or suits perfectly. There’s also the English gnat’s piss for any weak and unsatisfying drink. Others exist, some even more crude.

Share this page
Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon Google+

Search World Wide Words

Support World Wide Words!

Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.


Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!

OTHER WAYS TO HELP

Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 9 Dec. 2000

Advice on copyright

The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-wit2.htm
Last modified: 9 December 2000.