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inch1

[inch] /ɪntʃ/
noun
1.
a unit of length, 1/12 (0.0833) foot, equivalent to 2.54 centimeters.
2.
a very small amount of anything; narrow margin:
to win by an inch; to avert disaster by an inch.
verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
3.
to move by inches or small degrees:
We inched our way along the road.
Idioms
4.
by inches,
  1. narrowly; by a narrow margin:
    escaped by inches.
  2. Also, inch by inch. by small degrees or stages; gradually:
    The miners worked their way through the narrow shaft inch by inch.
5.
every inch, in every respect; completely:
That horse is every inch a thoroughbred.
6.
within an inch of, nearly; close to:
He came within an inch of getting killed in the crash.
Origin
1000
before 1000; Middle English; Old English ynce < Latin uncia twelfth part, inch, ounce. See ounce1
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for by inches

inch1

/ɪntʃ/
noun
1.
a unit of length equal to one twelfth of a foot or 0.0254 metre
2.
(meteorol)
  1. an amount of precipitation that would cover a surface with water one inch deep: five inches of rain fell in January
  2. a unit of pressure equal to a mercury column one inch high in a barometer
3.
a very small distance, degree, or amount
4.
every inch, in every way; completely: he was every inch an aristocrat
5.
inch by inch, gradually; little by little
6.
within an inch of, very close to
verb
7.
to move or be moved very slowly or in very small steps: the car inched forward
8.
(transitive) foll by out. to defeat (someone) by a very small margin
Word Origin
Old English ynce, from Latin uncia twelfth part; see ounce1

inch2

/ɪntʃ/
noun
1.
(Scot & Irish) a small island
Word Origin
C15: from Gaelic innis island; compare Welsh ynys
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for by inches

inch

n.

"linear measure, one-twelfth of a foot," late Old English ynce, Middle English unche (current spelling c.1300), from Latin uncia "a twelfth part," from root of unus "one" (see one). An early borrowing from Latin, not found in any other Germanic language. Transferred and figurative sense of "a very small amount" is attested from mid-14c. For phrase give him an inch ... see ell.

"small Scottish island," early 15c., from Gaelic innis (genitive innse) "island, land by a river," from Celtic *inissi (cf. Old Irish inis, Welsh ynys, Breton enez).

v.

"move little by little," 1590s, from inch (n.1). Related: Inched; inching.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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by inches in Science
inch
  (ĭnch)   
A unit of length in the US Customary System equal to 1/12 of a foot (2.54 centimeters). See Table at measurement.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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Idioms and Phrases with by inches

by inches

Also, inch by inch. Gradually, bit by bit, as in We found ourselves in rush hour traffic, moving by inches. Shakespeare used this term in Coriolanus (5:4): “They'll give him death by inches.” Despite the increasing use of metric measurements, it survives, often as an exaggeration of the actual circumstance. The phrase to inch along, first recorded in 1812, means “to move bit by bit,” as in There was a long line at the theater, just inching along.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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