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.

  • 2
    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. Feb 2 '18 at 16:41
  • 1
    The dictionaries I looked in had different definitions for each of these. Which dictionary definitions were you looking at?
    – ColleenV
    Feb 2 '18 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.
    Feb 2 '18 at 18:17

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".

  • 2
    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
    Mar 22 '19 at 17:58
  • 1
    @Mixolydian: to a Brit who pays any attention at all to hair, that seems very strange, but horses for courses and all that.
    – SamBC
    Mar 22 '19 at 18:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.