Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Extremely close: a hairbreadth escape.
  • n. Variant of hairsbreadth.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. the width of a hair, a very short distance or a very small amount

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • The diameter or breadth of a hair; a very small distance; sometimes, definitely, the forty-eighth part of an inch.
  • adj. Having the breadth of a hair; very narrow.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. The diameter or breadth of a hair; an infinitesimal space or distance. Among the Jews a hairbreadth was reckoned the 48th part of an inch; in Burma it is of an inch. Now generally written hair's-breadth.
  • Of the breadth of a hair; extremely narrow.

Etymologies

From hair + breadth. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • In short, these kind of hairbreadth missings of happiness look like the insults of Fortune, who may be considered as thus playing tricks with us, and wantonly diverting herself at our expense.

    The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

  • Come, did you have any 'hairbreadth' 'scapes or moving accidents by field and flood? "

    'Smiles' A Rose of the Cumberlands

  • With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.

    Wolf Hall: Summary and book reviews of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

  • The incomparable Emerson clan is a hairbreadth away from unearthing the legendary site they've been searching for.

    Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters: Book summary

  • But everything about what one feels (and in the end, does) about whether to have a child depends on making these hairbreadth grammatical distinctions.

    New York Review: The Collected Stories Of Lydia Davis

  • Limbaugh came within a hairbreadth of owning an NFL team.

    Bad Sports

  • Alex Jorgen, blue-eyed red-haired captain of Dutch motor-ship Heloise, told Star reporter of hairbreadth escapes in England's blockade zone.

    In Spite of Their Declaration of Bombs

  • Whether he could write, I don't know, but he read from that novel-and it was about himself, full of lurid adventures in which he triumphed over hordes of savages, killed grizzly bears with his Bowie, and had hairbreadth escapes from forest fires and blizzards and heaven knows what.

    Isabelle

  • Clinton's and Obama's positions on economic matters are simple a hairbreadth apart compared to McCain's Republican economic orthodoxy (which got us into this predicament).

    What's Obama's Route To The White House?

  • As much as he hated to admit it, he was a hairbreadth from developing a case of pure, hot lust for the demure Miss Caitlyn.

    The Laird Who Loved Me

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