AskDefine | Define whisker

The Collaborative Dictionary

Whisker \Whisk"er\, n. [1913 Webster]
One who, or that which, whisks, or moves with a quick, sweeping motion. [1913 Webster]
Formerly, the hair of the upper lip; a mustache; -- usually in the plural. [1913 Webster] Hoary whiskers and a forky beard. --Pope. [1913 Webster]
pl. That part of the beard which grows upon the sides of the face, or upon the chin, or upon both; as, side whiskers; chin whiskers. [1913 Webster]
A hair of the beard. [1913 Webster]
One of the long, projecting hairs growing at the sides of the mouth of a cat, or other animal. [1913 Webster]
pl. (Naut.) Iron rods extending on either side of the bowsprit, to spread, or guy out, the stays, etc. [1913 Webster]

Word Net



1 a very small distance or space; "they escaped by a hair's-breadth"; "they lost the election by a whisker" [syn: hair's-breadth, hairsbreadth, hair]
2 a long stiff hair growing from the snout or brow of most mammals as e.g. a cat [syn: vibrissa, sensory hair] v : furnish with whiskers; "a whiskered jersey" [syn: bewhisker]




  1. That part of the beard which grows upon the sides of the face, usually of the male, or upon the chin, or upon both
  2. A hair of the beard.
  3. One of the long, projecting hairs growing at the sides of the mouth of a cat, or other animal.
  4. The (very small) distance between two things
    • It missed falling on your foot by a whisker.
  5. spreaders from the bows to spread the bowsprit shrouds.

Derived terms


part of the beard
hair of the beard
long projecting hair at the sides of the mouth of a cat
(colloquial) very small distance between two things

See also

Vibrissae (singular: vibrissa), or whiskers, are specialized hairs, usually employed for tactile sensation, but can also refer to the stiff feathers near the mouths of some birds. Vibrissae hairs commonly grow around the nostrils, above the lips, and on other parts of the face of most mammals, as well as on the forelegs and feet of some animals. Vibrissae are usually thicker and stiffer than other types of hair.
left|thumb|200px|Vibrissae of a [[Tiger at Chester Zoo]]Vibrissae consist of inert material and contain no nerves, but do have special sensory cells associated with them. Vibrissae are different from other hairs mainly because they are implanted in a special follicle sealed by a capsule of blood, called a blood sinus. Touching a vibrissa causes it to bend, and the blood in the sinus is pushed to one side or the other. The blood amplifies the movement and allows the mechanoreceptors at the base of the vibrissa to detect extremely small deflections.
In some mammals, the follicles of vibrissae are surrounded by a highly developed sheath of muscle tissue which can be used to move them, such as in the case of whiskers found on cats, dogs and other mammals. Whiskers can grow to be extremely long; the length of a chinchilla's whiskers can be up to a third of its body length.
Vibrissae offer an advantage to animals that do not always have sight to rely on to navigate or to find food, or when the usefulness of non-tactile senses is limited. Some animals, such as house mice, can even detect air movements with their vibrissae.
A large part of the brain of many mammals is devoted to processing the nerve impulses from vibrissae because it is important to their survival. Information from the vibrissae is transmitted and processed through the trigeminal nerve into the brainstem and thalamus before relaying to the barrel cortex of the brain. Mammals use a great deal of energy to keep the follicles housing their whiskers warm and ready to use. Some animals - mainly rodents - actively palpate their vibrissae, a process known as whisking, whilst others use them merely as passive sensors.
Clipping or otherwise removing a mammal's vibrissae deprives the affected animal of sensory awareness. For example, cutting off the vibrissae on one side of a housecat's face will cause it to cut left corners too quickly and walk in a lopsided manner until the vibrissae grow back.


whisker in Catalan: Vibrissa
whisker in Danish: Knurhår
whisker in German: Vibrisse
whisker in Spanish: Vibrisas
whisker in French: Vibrisse
whisker in Italian: Vibrissa
whisker in Dutch: Snorhaar
whisker in Japanese: 洞毛
whisker in Norwegian: Værhår
whisker in Polish: Wibryssy
whisker in Russian: Вибриссы
whisker in Swedish: Morrhår
whisker in Ukrainian: Вібриси
whisker in Chinese: 觸鬚
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