Go over with a fine-tooth comb

The idiom go over with a fine-tooth comb came into use in the mid-1800s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as no stone unturned,, jump the gun, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, barking up the wrong tree, back to the drawing board, a dime a dozen, drop in the bucket, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the expression go over with a fine-tooth comb, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To go over something with a fine-tooth comb means to review something in a painstaking manner, to closely examine something in detail, to scrutinize something thoroughly. The term may be rendered as go over something with a fine-tooth comb or go through something with a fine-tooth comb, the latter phrase being more common in British English. Sometimes the idiom is rendered as go over with a fine-toothed comb or go through with a fine-toothed comb. Any of these versions of the idiom may be considered correct. Remember that the hyphen should be added between fine and tooth or fine and toothed, never tooth and comb. The idiom go over with a fine-tooth comb comes from the action of using a literal, physical, fine-tooth comb. Such combs are often used in the treatment of a lice infestation. A special comb with narrow, closely-spaced teeth is used to comb out the lice nits.


Sponsors send money in, voters make requests, and the organizers draw up disbursement lists, which they go over with a fine-tooth comb. (The Huffington Post)

“If you go over with a fine-toothed comb and start analyzing the history of basketball, men and women, who of them have truly played against great competition from the beginning of the season to the end of the season?” (The Chicago Tribune)

“But as coaches we go through with a fine tooth comb and find what are our learnings here. and we go and fix it and review it.” (The Bristol Post)

“We had to go through with a fine-toothed comb every shot of him that could be potentially misinterpreted as stalker-y, or sketchy, because there were takes where his intensity of feeling sometimes came off as darkness.” (Newsweek Magazine)

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