- a slender, typically rod-shaped rigid piece of metal, usually in any of numerous standard lengths from a fraction of an inch to several inches and having one end pointed and the other enlarged and flattened, for hammering into or through wood, other building materials, etc., as used in building, in fastening, or in holding separate pieces together.
- a thin, horny plate, consisting of modified epidermis, growing on the upper side of the end of a finger or toe.
- a former measure of length for cloth, equal to 2¼ inches (6.4 cm).
- to fasten with a nail or nails: to nail the cover on a box.
- to enclose or confine (something) by nailing (often followed by up): to nail up oranges in a crate.
- to make fast or keep firmly in one place or position: Surprise nailed him to the spot.
- to accomplish perfectly: the only gymnast to nail the dismount.
- to secure by prompt action; catch or seize: The police nailed him with the goods.
- to catch (a person) in some difficulty, lie, etc.
- to detect and expose (a lie, scandal, etc.).
- Slang. to hit (a person): He nailed him on the chin with an uppercut in the first round.
- to focus intently on an object or subject: She kept her eyes nailed on the suspicious customer.
- Obsolete. to stud with or as if with nails.
- nail down, to make final; settle once and for all: Signing the contract will nail down our agreement.
- hit the nail on the head, to say or do exactly the right thing; be accurate or correct: Your analysis really hit the nail on the head.
- nail in someone's/something's coffin, something that hastens the demise or failure of a person or thing: Every moment's delay is another nail in his coffin.
- on the nail, Informal.
- of present interest; under discussion.
- without delay; on the spot; at once: He was offered a job on the nail.
Origin of nail
SynonymsSee more synonyms on Thesaurus.com
Examples from the Web for nail
MOSCOW—Every now and then I run into Anna Chapman at a nail salon called “Little Fingers” on Potapovsky Avenue in downtown Moscow.Ex-Spy Anna Chapman, From Russia Unloved
November 27, 2014
Along the way, he accidentally embeds a nail in his foot, which is not symbolic at all.The Walking Dead’s ‘Crossed’: The Stage Is Now Set for a Bloody, Deadly Midseason Finale
November 24, 2014
The phrase means, “the nail that sticks out always gets hit by a hammer.”Sor Juana: Mexico’s Most Erotic Poet and Its Most Dangerous Nun
November 8, 2014
Not enough that Democrats can win Arkansas, God knows, but maybe enough that they can nail down North Carolina again.Inside the Democrats’ Godawful Midterm Election Wipeout
November 5, 2014
Once you nail that down, you realize that all the dance steps emerge from that.‘Get On Up’ Star Chadwick Boseman on Becoming James Brown—With A Little Help From Mick Jagger
August 4, 2014
In the beginning, a star, when drawn with a nail into a brick looked as follows.Ancient Man
Hendrik Willem van Loon
On a nail driven into the door frame hung a heavy bull whip.The Monster Men
Edgar Rice Burroughs
He was sent home, and hung upon a nail over against my table.The Uncommercial Traveller
You left them hanging upon the nail, and you found them there.The Channings
Mrs. Henry Wood
The latter was angered, and he swallowed her, tooth and nail.The Chinese Fairy Book
- a fastening device usually made from round or oval wire, having a point at one end and a head at the other
- anything resembling such a fastening device, esp in function or shape
- the horny plate covering part of the dorsal surface of the fingers or toesSee fingernail, toenail Related adjectives: ungual, ungular
- the claw of a mammal, bird, or reptile
- slang a hypodermic needle, used for injecting drugs
- a unit of length, formerly used for measuring cloth, equal to two and a quarter inches
- a nail in one's coffin an experience or event that tends to shorten life or hasten the end of something
- bite one's nails
- to chew off the ends of one's fingernails
- to be worried or apprehensive
- hard as nails
- in tough physical condition
- without sentiment or feelings
- hit the nail on the head to do or say something correct or telling
- on the nail (of payments) at once (esp in the phrase pay on the nail)
- to attach with or as if with nails
- informal to arrest or seize
- informal to hit or bring down, as with a shotI nailed the sniper
- informal to expose or detect (a lie or liar)
- to fix or focus (one's eyes, attention, etc) on an object
- to stud with nails
Word Origin and History for nail
Old English negel "metal pin," nægl "fingernail (handnægl), toenail," from Proto-Germanic *naglaz (cf. Old Norse nagl "fingernail," nagli "metal nail;" Old Saxon and Old High German nagel, Old Frisian neil, Middle Dutch naghel, Dutch nagel, German Nagel "fingernail, small metal spike"), from PIE root *(o)nogh "nail" (cf. Greek onyx "claw, fingernail;" Latin unguis "nail, claw;" Old Church Slavonic noga "foot," noguti "nail, claw;" Lithuanian naga "hoof," nagutis "fingernail;" Old Irish ingen, Old Welsh eguin "nail, claw").
The "fingernail" sense seems to be the original one. Nail polish attested from 1891. To bite one's nails as a sign of anxiety is attested from 1570s. Nail-biting is from 1805. Hard as nails is from 1828. To hit the nail on the head "say or do just the right thing" is first recorded 1520s. Phrase on the nail "on the spot, exactly" is from 1590s, of obscure origin; OED says it is not even certain it belongs to this sense of nail.
Old English næglian "to fasten with nails," from Proto-Germanic *ganaglijanan (cf. Old Saxon neglian, Old Norse negla, Old High German negilen, German nageln, Gothic ganagljan "to nail"), from the root of nail (n.). Related: Nailed; nailing. Meaning "to catch, seize" is first recorded 1766, probably from earlier sense "to keep fixed in a certain position" (1610s). Meaning "to succeed in hitting" is from 1886. To nail down "to fix down with nails" is from 1660s.
- A fingernail or toenail.
- A slender rod used in operations to fasten together the divided extremities of a broken bone.