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Obviously referring to hair alone, I'd like to know the differences between the listed words. All dictionaries I checked give pretty much the same definition for all and treat them practically as synonyms. Still, I believe there indeed are minor differences.

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    Both tresses and locks are just fancy/poetic alternatives to [head] hair. And plaits and braids are synonyms which both mean a complex structure or pattern formed by interlacing three or more strands of flexible material such as textile yarns, wire, or hair. Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 16:41
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    The dictionaries I looked in had different definitions for each of these. Which dictionary definitions were you looking at?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 17:20
  • I upvoted the comment made by @ColleenV because I think this would be a much better question if you included definitions you found rather than let the community wonder what they said.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 18:17

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A plait, or a braid, is an interwoven length of something - fibre, cloth, hair, etc - made by intertwining three or more separate strands. Ropes are braided, as are steel cables. That is the gist of the definition as I have found in every online dictionary I've checked.

Speaking from experience of British English, there is a difference between the two. When referring to human hair, plait is usually used for a relatively loose construction of three or more strands where each strand has a decent amount of hair, and those strands are clearly visible. In a braid, each strand is generally much thinner, made up of fewer hairs, and they are very tightly wound - so the eventual result is thin and the structure is hard to see without looking very closely. However, this distinction may be different in different dialects. I have certainly known Americans to call the structure that I would call a plait a braid.

A lock of hair is a small piece of hair - several strands kept together. It is particularly used to refer to hair that has been removed from a person's head, and might be kept in a locket or other keepsake. Some people have locks of hair put into custom-built soft toys. However, it is also used to refer to the hair on a person's head - either referring to the hair as a whole as locks, or referring to one stray or isolated bit of hair as a lock, such as "a stray lock of hair fell over her forehead".

A tress is basically like a lock, except it implies longer hair. It is rarely used in the singular, and generally appears in florid descriptions of a person's hair, as in "her long blond tresses fell over her shoulders". It's also an archaic verb meaning "to arrange a woman's hair".

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    Yes, as an American, I would use the word braid to refer to both a small, thin unit of interwoven hair (see for example cornrows) and a much larger unit of hair, like an entire head's worth that is all combined together.
    – Mixolydian
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 17:58
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    @Mixolydian: to a Brit who pays any attention at all to hair, that seems very strange, but horses for courses and all that.
    – SamBC
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 18:11

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