According to dictionary.com, Gnaw means

to bite (at) or chew (upon) constantly so as to wear away little by little


to cause constant distress or anxiety (to)

In this case, in this sentence,

"Four-eyes is just a small-fry who gnaws at tactics. He has no chance of winning against someone who can both strategize and fight", what is the meaning of "gnaws at" in this context?

  • 1
    It is a rather idiosyncratic metaphorical usage. One might expect to find "nibbles at" rather than "gnaws at" there, literally to "take tiny bites of something, as a mouse or a minnow does" with the figurative meaning "lacking prowess and thus having to rely (timidly) upon cunning". Dec 27 '16 at 14:51
  • Dogs gnaw on bones. To gnaw means to chew on something without eating it all at once. To keep biting it. Nibbles is something else. Dogs gnaw on bones and people can have anxiety gnawing on them. Idea? The person becomes the bone....
    – Lambie
    Dec 27 '16 at 14:53
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    Looks like the original is あのメガネは戦術をかじっただけの雑魚だ 戦術と戦闘どっちもいける”奴には勝てない. Dec 27 '16 at 16:58
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    Literally "Glasses (guy) is a small fish who only nibbles away at tactics, etc." I think "gnaws" is a mistranslation of the metaphor.
    – Andrew
    Dec 27 '16 at 17:25
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    Gnaws at sounds rather strange in English and doesn't make sense. It's just a mistranslation of Japanese kajiru (sense 2 here), meaning something like "dabble in; have learned just a bit of; know only a bit about/of; have picked up just a little bit of". Judging by the sentence you've quoted, the translation you're reading is likely to be full of errors.
    – user230
    Dec 27 '16 at 20:12

I see this is a translation from a Japanese manga? Looking at the original sentence, I would have translated it as "nibbles away at tactics" or "nibbles at the edges of tactics" instead of "gnaws at".

Either way it's a Japanese metaphor which does not have an exact equivalent in English. A more interpretive translation is:

"Four-eyes" (literally "Glasses" in Japanese) is a small-minded person who plays at tactics but has no hope to win against someone who can both fight and strategize.


If you've ever seen a dog gnawing at a bone, he looks like he is trying to eat it, but is incapable of doing so and is possibly struggling, but might be enjoying it. A kind of futility.

In your quote from the World Trigger manga series, Masataka Ninomiya compares Osamu Mikumo to a dog gnawing a bone. Mikuno is nicknamed "four eyes" since he wears glasses which immediately labels him as having low trion. Ninomiya is a superior fighter to Mikumo and his quote is criticizing Mikumo as a "light weight" fighter.

Ninomiya is basically saying that Mikumo will never have a fulfilling "mouthful of strategy" but only "bits and pieces of tactics" for his fighting ability. It also plays into the image of "giving a dog a bone" to keep them quiet while they are preoccupied "gnawing on the bone".

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