# width of an ax blade

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Horrid Henry, Feb 11, 2013.

1. ### Horrid HenryMember

polski
Hello,
first the context. The scene depicts a father and a daughter who died frozen in a river, after the father had unsuccesfully tried to rescue his daughter.

"The hands were not touching. Even through the plate of frozen water covering them, we saw clearly that little more than the width of an ax blade separated my father’s two hands from my sister’s one."
Alexi Zentner, Touch

The reference to an ax is there because the novel is set in a community of wood-cutters.

Now, my question is, how do you understand "width" in this context? Which dimension is it? Do you think it's:

1. synonymous with thickness (i. e. the shortest dimension of an ax blade)
2. the dimension between the cutting edge and the blunt edge of an ax blade
3. The dimension which is at right angles to both (1) and (2), i. e. the dimension between the two remaining blunt edges of an ax?

Hope I expressed myself clearly enough.
Best regards and thanks in advance.

2. ### BiffoSenior Member

England
English - England
None of the above! Bear in mind that few axe blades are rectangular in any direction.

My interpretation is that it refers to a measurement of the the cutting edge.

EDITED

I removed the diagram. It wasn't clear. See my latest post for an actual picture!

Last edited: Feb 11, 2013
3. ### EmbonpointSenior Member

Boston
English--American
I agree with Biffo. If I understand your description, this is your choice #3.

The way I read the text, the point is to that the father's hands were very close to his daughter's.

4. ### grammanSenior Member

It seems to me that ax blades, like other objects, have three dimensions. One is from the back toward the cutting edge (a few inches or perhaps several, maybe more in logging country), and I'd call that the length (your #2). The distance from the top to the bottom of the blade would be its height. Measuring the thickness of the blade at the back end (since the blade end will be very narrow) would give you the width (no more than an inch or two).

Perhaps I'm agreeing with the other views expressed her — I just can't tell.

5. ### PaulQSenior Member

UK
English - England
I agree with biffo - "the width of an ax blade" is equivalent to "a hair's breadth" the writer is emphasising how close the father came.

In fact, I would put it as the width of the cutting edge - i.e. almost nothing.

6. ### grammanSenior Member

One thing that confuses me is Biffo's drawing. The red line seems to a representation of the back of the blade, not the cutting edge.

If the distance was so narrow ("a hair's breadth," "almost nothing), why would "little more than the width of an ax blade" be used to describe it? Seems like a strange way to describe, what, a quarter of an inch?

7. ### PaulQSenior Member

UK
English - England
Probably because it is tedious to draw using ASCI characters

____________
____________
.....->..<-
......../\
.......|..|
....../....\
...../......\

8. ### grammanSenior Member

________________
___________________
---
./ .\
/....\

9. ### AndygcSenior Member

Devon
British English
I'd suggest that the writer chose his words badly. If the hands are supposed to be almost touching it should have been "the thickness of an ax blade". I think I understood what Biffo meant - after all, his diagram does include the axe handle, and I agree that the width of an axe blade should mean the length of the cutting edge. What are the horizontal lines in the other posts supposed to represent? Everybody else who has said they agree with Biffo is actually wrong - he wrote
and I agree with him - which is why I think it was a bad choice of word.

10. ### BiffoSenior Member

England
English - England
Quite right!
Here's what I was trying to say! View attachment 11236

Last edited: Feb 11, 2013
11. ### EmbonpointSenior Member

Boston
English--American
Nice drawing, Biffo. Yes, that is how I understood your original drawing and also how I understood the original text. I think this is also the "width" the original poster is describing in his option #3 but I'm not sure.

12. ### grammanSenior Member

One thing (think? ) that may be confusing is that the author refers to "the width of an ax blade," when perhaps the phrase should be "width of an ax head" (the part that's attached to the handle).

I looked around, and most often the only dimensions offered for an ax head are length and width (Biffos' depth and width, respectively). I did find one (Indian 3/4 Groove Stone Ax Head) that describes three dimensions: length, width, and depth, with the latter being Biffo's thickness. (I was describing these as length, height, and width.)

Based on Biffo's original drawing, I figured he was pointing to what he now labels as depth to be width. I could easily be wrong about that, so please don't fly off the handle. I sure don't want anyone to think/thing I have an ax to grind .

>>What are the horizontal lines in the other posts supposed to represent?

Something to be chopped by the ax, I assume.

13. ### Horrid HenryMember

polski
Wow, I didn't expect to trigger such an in-depth discussion

Yes, Biffo's width is my #3. BTW, cool picture, Biffo.

It seems to me too that "thickness" would be better than "width" to express the idea of proximity. But maybe that's what the author really meant? At least one dictionary definition describes width as "the linear extent or measurement of something from side to side, usually being the shortest dimension or (for something fixed) the shortest horizontal dimension." Does this mean that width and thickness might sometimes be used interchangeably? Also, I didn't mention that the author is Canadian, which might explain something.

14. ### wandleSenior Member

London
English - British
I would normally understand the width of a blade (of a knife or a sword) to be its shortest dimension.
That is how I understand the text here. The context requires a very short distance: almost touching.

15. ### AndygcSenior Member

Devon
British English
I certainly would not. A blade's width or breadth is it's width from the sharp edge to the blunt edge (or from one sharp edge to the other if a double-edged blade) It's shortest dimension is it's thickness.

16. ### grammanSenior Member

I think Andygc may have the most important point:
I think I got off on the wrong foot, despite Biffo's early warning that "few axe blades are rectangular in any direction," in deciding that there are three measures. I'm going to guess that three-dimensional objects are commonly represented as having length, width, and height. Does no one else use height to describe an ax blade/head?

So what's depth? I figure it's introduced when a dimension varies in a particular way, changing direction and returning to earlier values. Holes have depth; ships/boats/canoes have depth. It seems to me ax blades/heads don't. Agreeing with Andygc and Henry,
I want to use thickness to represent this inconsistency in, well, the shortest dimension, whatever it's called.

>>I agree that the width of an axe blade should mean the length of the cutting edge.

I want to call that height. One possible explanation for the different perspectives here is we're talking about two different things (I'm not sure).

Henry (he's not all that horrid), asks if "width and thickness [are] sometimes … interchangeabl[e?]"

I'd say yes.

>>The author is Canadian, which might explain something.

(I love to tease my northern neighbors, but I'll resist the temptation, eh.) This raises an interesting point. It may be that the author expects readers to know what he means. Well, I don't. Perhaps we can agree that this should have been raised by the editor and somehow clarified.

So I'm choosing Henry's #1: synonymous with thickness (i. e. the shortest dimension of an ax blade). Again, I'm going to (politely) argue that depth isn't relevant here.

As I asked, why would this metaphor be used to describe "a hair's breadth," "almost nothing, "almost touching"? In my mind, the hands are a few or even several inches apart.

Finally, regarding Biffo's point about lots of varying. (there's so much of it, I want to say variating [occurs when the values of more than one variable vary? ]):

The cutting edge of some is slightly curved, a bit longer in the middle than at the ends — another varying dimension. And all cutting edges are "lengthier" than areas closer to the handle.

Last edited: Feb 13, 2013
17. ### wandleSenior Member

London
English - British
I visualise the blade of a sword, say, as horizontal, with its cutting edge downwards.
The dimension from hilt to tip is its length and the dimension from its top edge to the cutting edge is its depth.
Its shortest dimension could equally well be called its thickness, its width or its breadth.

Those are the three dimensions: length, breadth and depth.

Last edited: Feb 14, 2013
18. ### grammanSenior Member

Now breadth?! Thanks a lot! Looks like some people will go to any length to confuse me!

19. ### Horrid HenryMember

polski
I think I can end this discussion as, later in the book, I have found another reference to the same event, and it confirms that what the author really meant was, as PaulQ said, "a hair's breadth," and thus, as Andygc wrote, "the thickness of an ax blade" is what the author probably should have written.

"he was so close, just the thinness of a hair between them."

20. ### wandleSenior Member

London
English - British
If so, then the author was justified in using the word 'width', as post 14 explains: