Fine-tooth combs and blue-eyed sabre-toothed tigers

  • GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    A "tooth comb", if it existed, would be like a tooth brush: an item used for grooming the teeth. A comb that has itself been given teeth is a toothed (not tooth) comb. A comb with fine teeth is a fine-toothed (not tooth) comb. Because when it is said quickly the word sounds very similar to "fine tooth", many people assume that is what the word is supposed to be -- but it isnt. "Fine tooth comb" is thus not a variant, but a misspelling.
     

    Terry Morti

    Senior Member
    UK

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    We frequently say 'fine tooth comb' rather than 'toothed', just as Smilodon is a Sabre Tooth Tiger.
    While the BBC might spell it that way (and not consistently...), most scientific publications and museums seem to refer to Smilodon is one of the sabre-toothed cats.

    http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9064638/sabre-toothed-cat
    http://www.royalsaskmuseum.ca/research/what/sabretoothed.shtml
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v322/n6082/abs/322773a0.html
    http://palaeo.gly.bris.ac.uk/Palaeofiles/Pleistocene/index_files/page0005.htm
    http://www.museum.vic.gov.au/prehistoric/mammals/america.html
     

    dn88

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I believe it's most similar to "blue-eye(s)" and "blue-eyed". I think either is correct and the whole thing depends on the preference of the speaker.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Another idiomatic expression, at least in American English, would be:

    "I got stuck on the board for two hours. The customs officers went through my car and my bags with a fine-tooth comb."
    I really don't know why the original thread went wandering off to discuss a variant of the fine-tooth comb that had not been mentioned - except to point out that it might be considered wrong.

    BE speakers have been using fine-tooth combs, as JamesM wrote, for a long time. It is not a mis-spelling. It is the original and only form admitted by the OED. The verb is to fine-tooth-comb.

    There have been no suggestions here that a fine tooth-comb has any life outside the misapprehension of those who don't always think about what they hear, then say what they think they heard.

    What about that tiger, then? Referring again to the OED ... that may be either a sabre-toothed tiger, a sabre-tooth tiger or perhaps even a sabretooth tiger.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I think "fine-toothed" or "fine-tooth" both work, personally. "Fine-toothed" makes more sense to me, but I'm fairly sure I've seen "fine-tooth comb" on packaging.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    My father always said, and he was a meticulous person who said it often: a fine tooth-comb. I as a child wondered why people would want to comb their teeth. I've often heard it pronounced like this and, after my problems as an infant with the expression, am careful now to say a fine-tooth comb. I've never heard the toothed variety in BE.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Hmm... "fine-toothed comb" does appear to exist in BE, although it may not be conversational.

    http://www.hpa.org.uk/essex/publications/ICG/SectionH_CICG.pdf

    Children should have their own fine-toothed comb and be taught to use it. ...

    Parents should use a fine-toothed comb, or preferably a headlice comb purchased from the local chemist (Community Pharmacy), on wet hair each week to check for lice.

    I found this example among many using this search:

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=%22fine-toothed+comb%22&btnG=Google+Search&meta=cr%3DcountryUK%7CcountryGB


    To be fair, though, it's MUCH less common than "fine-tooth comb" (853 to 26,800) in UK-only searches. "Fine-tooth" is also much more common in a Google general search, by a two-to-one margin:

    http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1="fine-tooth+comb"&word2="fine-toothed+comb"
     

    mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    BE speakers have been using fine-tooth combs, as JamesM wrote, for a long time. It is not a mis-spelling. It is the original and only form admitted by the OED. The verb is to fine-tooth-comb.
    I thought I might point out that the OED does recognize 'fine-toothed file' and 'fine-toothed saw' so the structural logic behind 'fine-toothed comb' isn't in question.

    To me the difference between them is like that beween being 'titled' something and 'entitled' something. Both refer to a state held as the result of an action; one stresses the state, the other the action.
     
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