Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

As a new dad, I’ve come across a lot of new baby terminology these last several months. Some of these are associated with various baby products, like layettes made of muslin. Other terms have to do with major milestones, like when the little one finally develops a pincer grip to pick up finger foods. Or is that a pincher grip? What’s the difference?

In going through the endless deluge of parenting-related content on the Internet, I found that a “pincer grip” is the preferred term to refer to when the baby grabs something between her thumb and forefinger. For the longest time, many people (myself included) figured that the proper term would be a “pincher” grip, because it’s a grip that is used for pinching. And we’d be wrong.

Even as I write this blog post, the automatic spell checking utility is highlighting “pincher” as a mistake.

To be fair, the word “pincher” is listed in several dictionaries and it is oftentimes defined as something (or someone) that pinches. The word “pinch” can take on several related meanings, like gripping the skin of someone else’s body between a finger and thumb. You can also talk about adding a “pinch” of salt to a recipe or how Anthony is a penny “pincher.”

Given that kind of construction, you might be led to believe that a “pincer” is someone who “pinces.” And you would once again be wrong, because there is no such verb as “to pince.” There is only “to pinch.” The word “pince” does exist, though, in the context of a “pince-nez,” which is a style of eyeglasses that are only held in place by pinching the bridge of the nose and without the support of the earpieces.

If you were to look up the definition for “pincer” in a dictionary, you would find that it refers to the tool with two concave jaws, used for gripping and holding things. They’re somewhere between pliers and scissors, you could say. The claws on crustaceans like crabs and lobsters are also called pincers, even though we associate them as being used for pinching.

Confusing? Absolutely. It certainly doesn’t help the definitions for “pincher” and “pincer” are practically the same and they share fundamentally the same French origins too.

Even so, if you want to talk about a baby developing the ability to pick up a cookie between her index finger and thumb, you’ll want to talk about her pincer grip. If she’s anything like my daughter, she’s likely also using that pincer grip to pinch your face.