Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • intransitive verb To bite, chew on, or erode with the teeth.
  • intransitive verb To produce by gnawing.
  • intransitive verb To erode or diminish gradually as if by gnawing.
  • intransitive verb To afflict or worry persistently.
  • intransitive verb To bite or chew persistently.
  • intransitive verb To cause erosion or gradual diminishment.
  • intransitive verb To cause persistent worry or pain.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A gnawing.
  • To bite off little by little; bite or scrape away with the front teeth; erode or eat into.
  • To bite upon, as in close thought, vexation, rage, etc.
  • To wear away as if by continued biting; consume; fret; waste.
  • To act by or as if by continual biting away of small fragments or portions.
  • To bite or nibble at the hook, as fish.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • intransitive verb To use the teeth in biting; to bite with repeated effort, as in eating or removing with the teeth something hard, unwieldy, or unmanageable.
  • transitive verb To bite, as something hard or tough, which is not readily separated or crushed; to bite off little by little, with effort; to wear or eat away by scraping or continuous biting with the teeth; to nibble at.
  • transitive verb To bite in agony or rage.
  • transitive verb To corrode; to fret away; to waste.
  • transitive verb To trouble in a constant manner; to plague; to worry; to vex; -- usually used with at.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • verb transitive To bite something persistently.
  • verb intransitive To produce excessive anxiety or worry.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • verb become ground down or deteriorate
  • verb bite or chew on with the teeth

Etymologies

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

[Middle English gnauen, from Old English gnagan.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Old English gnagan, from Proto-Germanic *gnaganan. Cognate with Dutch knagen, German nagen, Swedish gnaga.

Examples

  • _Bête Noire_, my _bête noire_, and so I called him, and as he is by no means averse to eating through his head rope when picketed, I find that the curtailment to "gnaw" is satisfactory enough as far as names go.

    A Yeoman's Letters Third Edition

  • [FN#244] The term is picturesque and true; we say "gnaw," which is not so good.

    Arabian nights. English

  • I don't know if you have a copy of that book but it's one of the few scraps that fans can gnaw at until they put out full reprints.

    The Googlemeister Is In

  • Here, I can confess that I see sickness like a violent weed growing everywhere, in the rubbish bins that puff out ash clouds, in the dirty puddles that ooze in the streets, in the breath of the gin ladies who hang about the sidewalk, in the dead cats, the hungry mice that gnaw at the walls, when I go walking in the park and see packs of stray dogs making garbage of the city.

    Deadly

  • Today, more than two decades later, his star has dimmed a bit - as always happens in literary circles, a few vultures have flown in to gnaw away at his corpus - but when one considers that between 1977 and 1988 he published five books, and that these have been supplemented by four more posthumous ones as well as three biographies, he remains a formidable if enigmatic presence.

    "The Letters of Bruce Chatwin"

  • Death Wish and Straw Dogs – misogynistic hits from that heyday of anti-feminist backlash, the early-70s – they endlessly gnaw and worry at issues of masculinity and impotence, with added penis-substitute artillery, and the purgative satisfactions deriving from orgasmic explosions of violence.

    Colmbiana proves that Luc Besson has a type … women with big guns

  • I was still young and slim and had many secrets to gnaw on.

    Tepid Everything

  • When I make coffee the black tar on his teeth seems to gnaw at me.

    The Tortilla Curtain (copy)

  • But in my case, the Oreos were likely to grow teeth and gnaw my fingers off.

    Brush of Darkness

  • But the story of Larry Freed 's ordeal with the property, now named the Sullivan Center, is the real-estate equivalent of the fox that had to gnaw off its leg to escape a trap.

    Clinging to Chicago Hope

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