Have you ever heard the expression “tooth and nail” before? It’s commonly used to describe a desperate fight. But what exactly does the phrase mean and what are its origins?
What Does The Phrase “Tooth And Nail” Mean?
The meaning of “tooth and nail” is easy to understand. For example, “They fought off their attackers with tooth and nail.” Something with everything to lose, including possibly its life, will fight with “tooth and nail” intensity. Fights like these are typically seen between wild animals when prey is fighting to escape from a hunter.
What Is The Origin Of The Phrase?
The expression “tooth and nail” is one of the relatively few Old English phrases still frequently used today. One of the earliest examples of the phrase is from Sir Thomas More‘s fictional book from the year 1535 titled In A Dialogue of Comfort and Tribulation. In section 3.22 of the book, Moore writes the phrase “that they will fight tooth and nail” when describing people who fear death and are attached to the physical things of life.
The fictional book closely mirrored Moore’s own life. His opposition to the Protestant Reformation and his refusal to take King Henry VIII‘s Oath of Supremacy resulted in his conviction of treason and execution.
NERD NOTE: Sir Thomas More is one the few people to be canonized, or sainted, by both the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.