- a unit of length, 1/12 (0.0833) foot, equivalent to 2.54 centimeters.
- a very small amount of anything; narrow margin: to win by an inch; to avert disaster by an inch.
- to move by inches or small degrees: We inched our way along the road.
- by inches,
- narrowly; by a narrow margin: escaped by inches.
- Also inch by inch.by small degrees or stages; gradually: The miners worked their way through the narrow shaft inch by inch.
- every inch, in every respect; completely: That horse is every inch a thoroughbred.
- within an inch of, nearly; close to: He came within an inch of getting killed in the crash.
Origin of inch1
- a unit of length equal to one twelfth of a foot or 0.0254 metre
- an amount of precipitation that would cover a surface with water one inch deepfive inches of rain fell in January
- a unit of pressure equal to a mercury column one inch high in a barometer
- a very small distance, degree, or amount
- every inch in every way; completelyhe was every inch an aristocrat
- inch by inch gradually; little by little
- within an inch of very close to
- to move or be moved very slowly or in very small stepsthe car inched forward
- (tr foll by out) to defeat (someone) by a very small margin
- Scot and Irish a small island
Word Origin and History for by inches
"move little by little," 1590s, from inch (n.1). Related: Inched; inching.
"linear measure, one-twelfth of a foot," late Old English ynce, Middle English unche (current spelling c.1300), from Latin uncia "a twelfth part," from root of unus "one" (see one). An early borrowing from Latin, not found in any other Germanic language. Transferred and figurative sense of "a very small amount" is attested from mid-14c. For phrase give him an inch ... see ell.
"small Scottish island," early 15c., from Gaelic innis (genitive innse) "island, land by a river," from Celtic *inissi (cf. Old Irish inis, Welsh ynys, Breton enez).
- A unit of length in the US Customary System equal to 112 of a foot (2.54 centimeters). See Table at measurement.
Idioms and Phrases with by inches
Also, inch by inch. Gradually, bit by bit, as in We found ourselves in rush hour traffic, moving by inches. Shakespeare used this term in Coriolanus (5:4): “They'll give him death by inches.” Despite the increasing use of metric measurements, it survives, often as an exaggeration of the actual circumstance. The phrase to inch along, first recorded in 1812, means “to move bit by bit,” as in There was a long line at the theater, just inching along.