Image courtesy June’s Tech Files.

I use this tool all the time, but rarely have I ever heard any two people refer to it by the same name. “Wire cutters” is what I called them growing up, but since then I have heard “diagonal cutters,” “diagonal pliers,” “diags,” “side cutters,” “side cutting pliers,” “snips,” “snippers,” “dog-nips,” the easily-misinterpreted “strippers,” and the downright offensive “nips” and “dikes” (which apparently upsets Dutch people for some reason). So I’m starting a collection. Have I missed anything? What do you call them?

Update: Woohoo! Forty comments and still going strong. So far I’ve added: “cutting pliers,” “di-cutters,” “sprue cutters,” “fifty-fours,” “diagonal snips,” “Seitenschneider,” “Alicates de corte,” “bandits,” “toenail clippers,” and the diplomatically ingenious “alternative lifestyle pliers.” Thanks all!

Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

  • chrisrosa

    We called them dikes when I went through lineman school (31L, cable dog, woof!) back in 88. Though it was definitely a shortened version for “diagonal cutters” rather than some dutch (or otherwise) reference.

    These appear to be a good deal smaller though, so I’m not sure they’d qualify. “Snips” seems more appropriate.

    • jedinc

      In trade school in 1954 VERY PC mind you we were taught many things. Inclding a very good way to rember the resistance color code that I am afraid to show someone today.

      Strange how we learned and remembered so much.

    • Marc de Vinck

      I always thought dikes had a “plier” type end, with the diagonal cutter as a secondary tool. Line-man’s dikes are used to twist the wire, then cut it (hence the need for the plier tip). I call these diagonal cutters.

  • I Heart Robotics

    I prefer the easily misinterpreted “strippers”. You might like this list of some of the crazy strippers I have found.


  • archaeo_logic

    I call them dikes – because my first job was with some guys that used to work as linemen…

    Clearly this is a contraction of the cumbersome ‘diagonal cutters’ as chrisrosa mentions, definitely not a reference to the Dutch.

    I have found that the term ‘Cutters’ is general enough for any group and tends to be less offensive in the event that a person of Dutch descent happens to be present.

  • Buddha Buck

    I agree with chrisrosa: They look like small dikes to me. I don’t see why they would be called “nips”, as to me nippers are end cutters.

    In context, I don’t believe dikes or nips should be offensive. Words, even words which refer to groups of people in derogatory ways, often times have multiple meanings. I have never had a lesbian get offended when I’ve asked her for a pair of dikes when I obviously wanted a tool. But then, I don’t think I’ve ever asked a lesbian for a pair of dikes when I was making a sexual innuendo, either.

  • jedireign

    I’ve always referred to them as dikes; which, at one job, evolved into, “alternative lifestyle pliers.”

  • outroot

    I always called them angle or diagonal cutters. I have a bunch of engineers in my family and I’ve never heard anyone call them “dikes”.

  • Curiosity Killed Thee

    at the tv truck repair shop that I worked at we bought our tools from the traveling Snap-on guy, so we used to joke a lot about buying snap-on dykes and strippers (a different tool) from the snap-on guy!

  • SKR

    I’ve always called them dikes.

  • bill

    My dad called the larger version “Linesmens” pliers.
    Leather crafters call the smaller version side cutters.

  • Gareth Branwyn

    I’ve always called them “diagonal cutters” (and sometimes flush cutters).

    • Buddha Buck

      Flush cutters are different. Flush cutters are designed so that one side of the cut will be square and allow you to cut something flush to a surface it is sticking out of. Dikes (or dykes, or diagonal cutters) don’t leave a clean, square cut and can’t be used to cut something flush to a surface.

  • charliex

    side cutters or clippers, with a (semi) flush cut, and not a full flush cut.

  • Bayne

    I must be misusing these because I call them toenail clippers….

    • The Steven

      You too, huh?

  • Myself

    Those are dikes, short for diags, short for diagonal cutters. Marketing people probably have to call them diagonal cutters, but the rest of us know they’re dikes. (Not dykes, which are easy to offend!)

    Linesman’s pliers are totally different. They’re huge, they have a cutter way back in the jaw but are primarily for gripping and twisting stiff wire. Linesman’s pliers have a square nose and beveled edges on the head, so they can be used as a conduit reamer.

    Flush cutters (or flush end-nippers, if the cutting action is perpendicular to the handles) don’t have a double-ground cutting edge, as the dikes pictured here do. Making a single-ground edge is more difficult, thus flush cuts are more expensive, but they’re the ONLY way to cut off ty-raps (or zip-ties, wire ties, whatever you call them). If I catch you cutting tyraps with dikes, and leaving the inevitable sharp edges, you are off my job for the day. Second strike means I don’t call you back. I’ve lost a fair bit of blood because idiots left sharp tyraps in the rack.

    Snips, with no qualifier, are electrician’s scissors. They’re all-metal, with loop handles, a stout build, one serrated blade, and one smooth blade. They usually have stripping notches along the back of the serrated blade. Tough enough to go through Romex (NMC for brand-name weenies who blow their noses on “tissues”), a pair of snips is insanely handy to have around. But also the wrong tool to trim tyraps with. Flush cuts or nothing, I’m serious!

    Snips are not to be confused with *tin* snips, of course, which are usually used to cut anything but.

    And strippers? Seriously? Anyone who calls cutters strippers needs to be taken out back…

    • Peter

      Re: tie-wraps
      The correct tool for tie-wraps is a gun-like gadget that tensions them and cuts them flush. But nobody ever has one, so they usually make do with what they do have, which is almost always a pair of dikes.

      My pet peeve is people who cut nails, steel wire, etc, with dikes, leaving the edges looking like a mountain range. Copper wire only, guys!

  • migpics

    Sean it really depends on the situation and how far away from you they are and who’s working on the project with you. Take for instance if you’re under a car and you need them but they’re out of your reach you first call them wire cutters, then when your helper doesn’t produce the correct item you call them snips, or ‘Those little things that look like toe nail clippers’. After several attempts they eventually are called names that I don’t believe is appropriate to mention on your post. Eventually, they are finally named “these things!” as you hold them up to your assistant and they then say, “Oh, well why didn’t you say that.”

  • mtbf0

    i just pick them up and cut something. i rarely feel the need to address them, though i suppose an occasional, “thank-you, job well done,” might not be out of line.

  • majolsurf

    Dikes. But I was once told to call them bandits due to pc issues. :|

  • RocketGuy

    The one time I supervised a network install with a crew, two of my installers were women and also a couple.

    They took no offense when I used the phrase “this is a pair of dikes” while holding up said tool during orientation. Context is everything I guess.

    They were highly amused, however, when I realized what I had said and turned a very bright shade of red.

  • Aladaris

    In Tenerife (Spain) i call them “Alicates de corte”, something like “Cutting pliers” … :P

  • Brian Little

    Always just called them “wire cutters” or “nippers”, depending on who I’m around.

    As for “nips” and “dikes” being offensive, I’m not sure why small cheese crackers or earthen dams would take offense at your nomenclature for a tool.

  • mischka

    in Germany we call it “Seitenschneider”.

  • fruitkid101

    I call them flush cutters. or diagonal snips

  • ramriot

    Quite clearly and not wanting to sound facetious these are a “Pair of 54’s”.

    I worked for 10 years within British Telcom otherwise known as BT. While there I had to learn all the technical lingo, especially what to call any specific tool you wanted to borrow of a colleague or needed handing to you while you were Arse deep into the guts of a rack. Here is a selection with excplanations:-

    Number 2 – A flat bladed screwdriver perfect for M2.5-M4 screws

    Number 4 – A large screwdriver ideal for leaving off paint tin lids

    A pair of 81’s – 3 Inch serrated long nose pliers.

    (Following are NSFW)

    Nipple Crippler – A close limit crimper for crimping cable splices.

    Virgin Urger – Three pronged rubber insulator stretcher.

  • metis

    these are diagonal cutters, shortened to “dikes”. the rest of the summary is dead on and accurate.

    strippers are one of the myriad of tools designed to STRIP insulation off wire, not cut the wire.

    side cutters is somewhat acceptable, but there’s nothing resembling pliers about the tool head.

    nips is the contraction for end nippers, which is what you call the double ground version of these that cut parallel to the pivot of the tool, or perpendicular to the handles.

    i’ll continue to call a bundle of small twigs a faggot, and the above pictured tool dikes, because those are the etymologically correct terms for them, and if someone chooses to become offended out of ignorance of language, i’m sorry.

  • Kevin Fodor

    I call these “sprue cutters” as model makers typically use them to cut plastic parts from sprues.

  • mightywombat.livejournal.com

    I have heard them called “flush cutters”.

  • Jim

    I’ve called them that for 30+ years. ‘Myself’ has a good explanation for the differences. Sorry Myself, but I cut my ty-raps and ‘ties with eyes’ with dikes all the time. When I’m done, I twist the wraps 180 degrees so the ‘blood letting’ part is behind the bundle.

  • rfenginerd

    err.. not sure why we think Dutchies might be offended by “pair o’ dikes” or “dikes”, I’m one and I use that name for the tool all the time. None of my relatives nor folks of Dutch origin I work with have ever been offended or surprised in any way when I ask for the dikes. Nothing in the Dutch language or culture warrants offense in this matter.

    Just checked with a lesbian friend, she’s not offended by “dikes” either, she thought it was funny. She felt the name was poetically appropriate for a tool that shears off small protrusions. She did think that “alternate lifestyle pliers” was funnier, though.

  • Gareth Branwyn

    Duh. I can’t believe, all these years, I’ve heard the term “dikes” and had no idea where that came from. I can’t believe I never made the connection with “digital cutters!” Thanks for that clarification! I feel both educated and stupid.

  • The Steven

    Many years ago, I worked for a well known hobbyist / electronics store, trust me, you know the one, most people make fun of them and the lack of knowledgeable staff.

    Anyway, one day a guy comes running into the store, panting, out of breath, and says: “Quick I’m looking for a pair of little dikes!” Every head in the store turned, you could hear a pin drop. I was behind the counter doing something, I don’t remember what, and reached down under the counter and held up a tool very much like the one in the picture… He said Yes, just like those!

    It’s funny where a persons frame of reference takes them. When he asked for that tool, I wasn’t thinking of anything but that tool. But it became clear to me while I was writing up the sale what everyone else was thinking.

  • inventorjack.myopenid.com

    You’re right. Even at work we variously call them dikes, diagonal cutters/clippers, or wire cutters.

  • Alan Parekh

    I have always known them as side cutters. But diagonal cutters is also very popular. Not sure if it is a regional think (I am from Canada).

  • lisa miller

    My father was a lobster fisherman in Southern California, we went through lots of these building wire lobster traps. They were almost always called ‘dikes’ or ‘a pair of dikes,’ occasionally I’ve heard ‘side-biters.’

  • barawn

    Yeah, dikes. If you want to be PC, or the person you’re working with isn’t that familiar with ’em, you call ’em die cutters (di-cutters) .. but they’re diagonal cutters. I don’t know why you’d call them anything else, considering they’re a tool with two cutting edges that intersect diagonally.

  • Dobie Won

    When I was growing up we always called them cutting pliers, mainly as a distinction between these and needle-nose pliers.

  • jeff-o

    I call them side cutters, though I’ve heard of most of those other terms, too.

  • Sean Michael Ragan

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

    All kinds of new ones:

    “cutting pliers,” “di-cutters,” “sprue cutters,” “fifty-fours,” “diagonal snips,” “Seitenschneider,” “Alicates de corte,” “bandits,” “toenail clippers,” and, of course, “alternative lifestyle pliers.”

    I just added all these to the main post. Keep ’em coming!

  • bookmunkie

    Depends on context. I’d always called them wire cutters until I started playing Warhammer 40K and the guys in the hobby store called them side cutters

  • Sam

    I have always called these diagonal cutters