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.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added or updated
Lie Doggo; Fewmet; Dingbat; Kibosh; Caucus; Oryzivorous; Kick the bucket; Satisficer; Beside oneself; Words of the Year 2015; Peradventure; Sconce; Orchidelirium; How’s your father; Goon; Emoji; Thank your mother for the rabbits; Nonplussed; Bob’s-a-dying; Methinks; Bill of goods; Binge-watching; Codswallop; That’s all she wrote; Great Scott.
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!