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by David Thomas May 14, 2022

Ancient proverbs and superstition offer modern wisdom

“We are but the two halves of a pair of scissors, when apart... but together we are something.”

- The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens

It’s not surprising that scissors have long served as a metaphor for marriage in folklore. Think about it: lock up two matching blades and you have a pair of scissors. Unite two people, add a wedding cake and you have a married couple.

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In her memoirs, Lady Holland in the 1800s recounted a line on the same topic from the sermons of her father, the Reverend Sydney Smith, an English writer, wit and Anglican minister. The reference manages to sing the praises of the collective power of the blades while serving to discourage any attempt to get between a married couple: 

“Marriage resembles a pair of shears, so joined that they cannot be separated; often moving in opposite directions, yet often punishing anyone who comes between them.”

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The whole scissors-as-marriage thing works in the parlance of the craft scissors industry as well. For centuries, the highly skilled and finicky stage of fastening the blades together and making them work with precision has been known as “marrying the blades”.

The skilled artisans who perform this task have traditionally completed a painstaking five-year apprenticeship before they are ready. The position is known quite literally as the “Putter Togetherer”, or "Putter" for short.

The folks at craft-scissor maker  Ernest Wright in Sheffield, England, explain the marrying stage like this, after the custom halves have been forged, ground, sanded and hardened:

“It’s a delicate task, where the putter-togetherer hammers the perfect curve onto each blade. A highly skilled job which takes years to master and makes all the difference between a mass-produced pair of scissors and an Ernest Wright. 

After the scissors are put together, they finally get their sharp edges put on. This is done on the well-known and very old ‘Big Wheel Saddle Grinder’, and leaves a burr on both blades. 

With one swift movement, the blades are closed shut for the very first time, removing the burr of their opposing blade in the process. This leaves the blades perfectly ‘married together'.”

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Scissors and marriage: From folklore to… corporate training?

We came across a corporate trainer in India who took the whole idea of marriage and scissors and read more into it as an educational tool on how people operate for success. On LinkedIn the author and influencer Dr. Krishnamurthi offers four major takeaways. We like the part about couples, like knives, needing to get sharpened regularly to avoid getting dull. We sum up his advice like this:

  1. The blades of a pair of scissors are united firmly. When the bonding between couples is weak, they will live up to the saying, “When love is thick, faults are thin and when love is thin, faults are thick.”
  2. If the blades become blunt, they will be useless. Couples need to be sharp to understand, anticipate needs, and support each other.
  3. Scissors always act on opposite directions, though they have a common purpose. That is an act of balancing. You know what happens if the husband accepts whatever the wife suggests and the wife agrees to whatever the husband proposes.
  4. The most important lesson is that scissors do not allow anything to come in between. Anything that does will be cut mercilessly. At times, third-person intervention is like ‘cure worse than disease’.
Superstitions about scissors: Love, bad omens and good fortunes 

Krishnamurthi’s educational insights all sound like sensible advice. But scissors and wisdom are not always united. When we get into superstitions about marriage and scissors, things get a bit out there. For example, in parts of North Africa, it was once said that scissors could be used to put a curse on a bridegroom

"When the bridegroom was on horseback, the person enacting the curse would stand behind him with the scissors open and call his name. If the bridegroom answered to his name being called, the scissors would then be snapped shut and the bridegroom would be unable to consummate his marriage with his bride."

While we are on the subject of superstitions, we thought we’d leave you with some others to do with scissors but zero to do with marriage – unless you can find a metaphor in there that we can’t!

  • From ancient Egypt: it’s bad luck to either open and close scissors without cutting something, or leave scissors open. (This second one seems pretty logical, based on risks related to safety and blade damage.)
  • Superstition has it’s bad luck to drop a pair of scissors because it might lead to your partner being unfaithful. Even worse, having a dropped pair of scissors stick in your wooden floor could be an omen of death. Other stories took the same scenario mean if a single blade sticks, then that might portend a death, but if two stick, get ready for a wedding.
  • The best quality craft scissors are going to be hard to break, given the hardness of the steel. But if you somehow do break a blade, some folks say that could lead to bad vibes and arguing. Break both and you had better be prepared for a catastrophe!
  • We all know the obvious dangers of running with scissors. But what about dreaming about them? Superstition holds that scissor dreams are a caution against getting involved in the arguments of others. Never bad advice, actually!

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