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My hair is too dry and knotted.

My hair is too dry and tangled.

Which word is more commonly used? Knotted or tangled?

3 Answers 3

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Tangled is the idiomatic term for hair with a lot of "knots" in it.

While hair that is tangled can, correctly and technically, be described as knotted, be aware that knotted can be ambiguous, because there are hair styles called "knots" (in English-speaking cultures, knotting the hair is a feminine style, which is why all these photos are of women's heads, but in other cultures, its something men do, e.g.). The sentence

Her hair was knotted at the nape of her neck.

means she's wearing a low bun, not that she's unkempt. (Hmm! Google Image search informs me some fashionistas have not gotten the disambiguation memo.)

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  • Your cited example is perfectly clear in context, but the connotations between knotted and tangled, matted, unkempt are so strong that I think most native speakers would express it as "Her hair was tied in a knot at the nape of her neck." Commented May 27, 2014 at 12:17
  • @FumbleFingers I think this might be gendered. Men (those not hairstylists or otherwise ignorant of the lingo of doing hair) might use that expression in ignorance, but people who actually use that hairstyle (women) don't use the verb "tied" for it. "Put up in a knot" or simply "up in a knot" is the usual expression for it, I think. (I defer to anybody in the hair-care industry.) Commented May 27, 2014 at 19:46
  • You could well be right regarding explicitly verb usage of "tie", particularly if we're talking about standard terminology within the tonsorial profession. All I'm saying is that knotted as a past tense/adjectival usage probably has too many negative connotations to be a likely choice for deliberately-created hairstyles involving "knots". Commented May 27, 2014 at 20:11
  • @FumbleFingers You are severely mistaken. Here's the first page of results from Google's N-gram on "hair knotted" 1984-2000, ALL of which refer to the hair style. It is the idiom for that. Commented May 27, 2014 at 20:15
  • I'm not convinced that link has much relevance to OP's "My hair is knotted" context, and it's worth noting that "hair tied" is far more common than "hair knotted". But my underlying substantive point is simply that dry and knotted hair doesn't make me think of hair deliberately styled into a knot - it's just an alternative to tangled in that context. Commented May 27, 2014 at 20:30
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Both are fine, but idiomatically tangled is much more common than knotted hair. I searched Google Books for greasy there because it's more of a "stock image" for unkempt dirty hair. But you could say if OP wants dry it's better to go for knotted to keep as far away from the clichéed stereotype as possible.

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First of all,

  • I have long thick hair which often gets tangles, especially after I've washed it.

    Generally speaking, the strands of hair are not straight, so when I brush my hair I have to tug at it. By tugging gently, the tangled hair will straighten.

  • Knots usually occur when hair is very damaged, dry and brittle, this is more difficult to untangle.

    Literally some of the ends are knotted, it may look like a small ball and depending on the severity, it might need to be cut. If there are a lot of knots in the hair, you could say

  • My hair is knotted

    But without proper context, the phrase could be interpreted to mean a particular hairstyle

Sleek-knotted-hair Sleek-knotted-hair

When there are several difficult knots and hair looks very unkempt we speak about matted hair

  • My small daughter hates having her hair brushed, she cries when I untangle her knots.
  • She had left her hair extensions in for an entire year, no wonder it became matted.

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