1. any of the numerous fine, usually cylindrical, keratinous filaments growing from the skin of humans and animals; a pilus.
  2. an aggregate of such filaments, as that covering the human head or forming the coat of most mammals.
  3. a similar fine, filamentous outgrowth from the body of insects, spiders, etc.
  4. Botany. a filamentous outgrowth of the epidermis.
  5. cloth made of hair from animals, as camel and alpaca.
  6. a very small amount, degree, measure, magnitude, etc.; a fraction, as of time or space: He lost the race by a hair.
  1. get in someone's hair, Slang. to annoy or bother someone: Their snobbishness gets in my hair.
  2. hair of the dog, Informal. a drink of liquor, supposed to relieve a hangover: Even a hair of the dog didn't help his aching head.Also hair of the dog that bit one.
  3. let one's hair down, Informal.
    1. to relax; behave informally: He finally let his hair down and actually cracked a joke.
    2. to speak candidly or frankly; remove or reduce restraints: He let his hair down and told them about his anxieties.
  4. make one's hair stand on end, to strike or fill with horror; terrify: The tales of the jungle made our hair stand on end.
  5. split hairs, to make unnecessarily fine or petty distinctions: To argue about whether they arrived at two o'clock or at 2:01 is just splitting hairs.
  6. tear one's hair, to manifest extreme anxiety, grief, or anger: He's tearing his hair over the way he was treated by them.Also tear one's hair out.
  7. to a hair, perfect to the smallest detail; exactly: The reproduction matched the original to a hair.
  8. without turning a hair, without showing the least excitement or emotion.Also not turn a hair.

Origin of hair

before 900; Middle English heer, Old English hǣr (cognate with Dutch, German haar, Old Norse hār), with vowel perhaps from Middle English haire hair shirt < Old French < Old High German hāria (cognate with Middle English here, Old English hǣre, Old Norse hǣra)
Related formshair·like, adjectivede·hair, verb (used with object)
Can be confusedhair hare


verb (used with object), tore or (Archaic) tare, torn or (Archaic) tare, tear·ing.
  1. to pull apart or in pieces by force, especially so as to leave ragged or irregular edges.
  2. to pull or snatch violently; wrench away with force: to tear wrappings from a package; to tear a book from someone's hands.
  3. to distress greatly: anguish that tears the heart.
  4. to divide or disrupt: a country torn by civil war.
  5. to wound or injure by or as if by rending; lacerate.
  6. to produce or effect by rending: to tear a hole in one's coat.
  7. to remove by force or effort: to be unable to tear oneself from a place.
verb (used without object), tore or (Archaic) tare, torn or (Archaic) tare, tear·ing.
  1. to become torn.
  2. to make a tear or rent.
  3. to move or behave with force, violent haste, or energy: The wind tore through the trees; cars tearing up and down the highway; I was tearing around all afternoon trying to find sandals for the beach.
  1. the act of tearing.
  2. a rent or fissure.
  3. a rage or passion; violent flurry or outburst.
  4. Informal. a spree.
Verb Phrases
  1. tear at,
    1. to pluck violently at; attempt to tear: She tore at the bandages until they loosened.
    2. to distress; afflict: remorse that tears at one's soul.
  2. tear down,
    1. to pull down; destroy; demolish.
    2. to disparage or discredit: to tear down one's friends behind their backs.
  3. tear into, Informal.
    1. to attack impulsively and heedlessly: He tore into the food with a will.
    2. to attack verbally: She tore into him for being late for dinner.
  4. tear off, Slang. to perform or do, especially rapidly or casually: to tear off a poem; to tear off a set of tennis.
  5. tear up,
    1. to tear into small shreds: He tore up the drawings because she had criticized them.
    2. to cancel or annul: to tear up a contract.
  1. tear it, Slang. to ruin all hope; spoil everything.
  2. tear one's hair, to manifest extreme anxiety, grief, anger, or frustration: I'm so upset, I could just tear my hair out.Also tear one's hair out.

Origin of tear

before 900; Middle English teren (v.), Old English teran; cognate with Dutch teren, German zehren to consume, Gothic distairan to destroy, Greek dérein to flay
Related formstear·a·ble, adjectivetear·a·ble·ness, nountear·er, nounun·tear·a·ble, adjective

Synonym study

1. Tear, rend, rip mean to pull apart. To tear is to split the fibers of something by pulling apart, usually so as to leave ragged or irregular edges: to tear open a letter. Rend implies force or violence in tearing apart or in pieces: to rend one's clothes in grief. Rip implies vigorous tearing asunder, especially along a seam or line: to rip the sleeves out of a coat. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for tear one's hair


  1. any of the threadlike pigmented structures that grow from follicles beneath the skin of mammals and consist of layers of dead keratinized cells
  2. a growth of such structures, as on the human head or animal body, which helps prevent heat loss from the body
  3. botany any threadlike outgrowth from the epidermis, such as a root hair
    1. a fabric or material made from the hair of some animals
    2. (as modifier)a hair carpet; a hair shirt
  4. another word for hair's-breadth to lose by a hair
  5. get in someone's hair informal to annoy someone persistently
  6. hair of the dog or hair of the dog that bit one an alcoholic drink taken as an antidote to a hangover
  7. keep your hair on! British informal keep calm
  8. let one's hair down to behave without reserve
  9. not turn a hair to show no surprise, anger, fear, etc
  10. split hairs to make petty and unnecessary distinctions
Derived Formshairlike, adjective

Word Origin for hair

Old English hær; related to Old Norse hār, Old High German hār hair, Norwegian herren stiff, hard, Lettish sari bristles, Latin crescere to grow


  1. a drop of the secretion of the lacrimal glandsSee tears
  2. something shaped like a hanging dropa tear of amber
Also called (esp Brit): teardrop
Derived Formstearless, adjective

Word Origin for tear

Old English tēar, related to Old Frisian, Old Norse tār, Old High German zahar, Greek dakri


verb tears, tearing, tore or torn
  1. to cause (material, paper, etc) to come apart or (of material, etc) to come apart; rip
  2. (tr) to make (a hole or split) in (something)to tear a hole in a dress
  3. (intr often foll by along) to hurry or rushto tear along the street
  4. (tr; usually foll by away or from) to remove or take by force
  5. (when intr, often foll by at) to cause pain, distress, or anguish (to)it tore at my heartstrings to see the starving child
  6. tear one's hair informal to be angry, frustrated, very worried, etc
  1. a hole, cut, or split
  2. the act of tearing
  3. a great hurry; rush
  4. on a tear slang showing a sudden burst of energy
Derived Formstearable, adjectivetearer, noun

Word Origin for tear

Old English teran; related to Old Saxon terian, Gothic gatairan to destroy, Old High German zeran to destroy
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for tear one's hair



Old English hær "hair, a hair," from Proto-Germanic *khæran (cf. Old Saxon, Old Norse, Old High German har, Old Frisian her, Dutch and German haar "hair"), perhaps from PIE *ghers- "to stand out, to bristle, rise to a point" (cf. Lithuanian serys "bristle;" see horror).

Spelling influenced by Old Norse har and Old English haire "haircloth," from Old French haire, from Frankish *harja or some other Germanic source (see above). To let one's hair down "become familiar" is first recorded 1850. Phrase hair of the dog that bit you (1540s), homeopathic remedy, is in Pliny.



1650s, mainly in American English, from tear (n.1). Related: Teared; tearing. Old English verb tæherian did not survive into Middle English.



"act of ripping or rending," 1660s, from tear (v.1).



"water from the eye," Old English tear, from earlier teahor, tæhher, from Proto-Germanic *takh-, *tagr- (cf. Old Norse, Old Frisian tar, Old High German zahar, German Zähre, Gothic tagr "tear"), from PIE *dakru-/*draku- (cf. Latin lacrima, Old Latin dacrima, Irish der, Welsh deigr, Greek dakryma). Tear gas first recorded 1917.



"pull apart," Old English teran (class IV strong verb; past tense tær, past participle toren), from Proto-Germanic *teran (cf. Old Saxon terian, Middle Dutch teren "to consume," Old High German zeran "to destroy," German zehren, Gothic ga-tairan "to tear, destroy"), from PIE *der- "tear" (cf. Sanskrit drnati "cleaves, bursts," Greek derein "to flay," Armenian terem "I flay," Old Church Slavonic dera "to burst asunder," Breton darn "piece").

The Old English past tense survived long enough to get into Bible translations as tare before giving place 17c. to tore, which is from the old past participle toren. Sense of "to pull by force" (away from some situation or attachment) is attested from late 13c. To be torn between two things (desires, loyalties, etc.) is from 1871.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

tear one's hair in Medicine


  1. Any of the cylindrical, keratinized, often pigmented filaments characteristically growing from the epidermis of a mammal.
  2. A growth of such filaments, as that forming the coat of an animal or covering the scalp of a human.
  3. One of the fine hairlike processes of a sensory cell.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

tear one's hair in Science


  1. One of the fine strands that grow from the skin of mammals, usually providing insulation against the cold. Modified hairs sometimes serve as protective defenses, as in the quills of a porcupine or hedgehog, or as tactile organs, as in the whiskers (called vibrissae) of many nocturnal mammals. Hair filaments are a modification of the epidermis of the skin and are composed primarily of keratin. Hair also contains melanin, which determines hair color.
  2. A slender growth resembling a mammalian hair, found on insects and other animals.
  3. A fine, threadlike growth from the epidermis of plants. See more at trichome.


  1. A drop of the clear salty liquid secreted by glands (lacrimal glands) in the eyes. Tears wet the membrane covering the eye and help rid the eye of irritating substances.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with tear one's hair

tear one's hair

Also, tear out one's hair. Be greatly upset or distressed, as in I'm tearing my hair over these errors. This expression alludes to literally tearing out one's hair in a frenzy of grief or anger, a usage dating from a.d. 1000. Today it is generally hyperbolic.


In addition to the idioms beginning with hair

  • hair of the dog that bit you
  • hair shirt

also see:

  • bad hair day
  • by a hair
  • by the short hairs
  • fair-haired boy
  • get gray hair from
  • hang by a thread (hair)
  • hide or hair
  • in someone's hair
  • let one's hair down
  • make one's hair stand on end
  • put lead in one's pencil (hair on one's chest)
  • split hairs
  • tear one's hair
  • turn a hair


In addition to the idioms beginning with tear

  • tear apart
  • tear around
  • tear at
  • tear away
  • tear down
  • tear into
  • tear it
  • tear off
  • tear one's hair

also see:

  • rip (tear) into
  • wear and tear

Also see undertearstorn.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.