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[neyl] /neɪl/
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).
verb (used with object)
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.
  1. to secure by prompt action; catch or seize:
    The police nailed him with the goods.
  2. to catch (a person) in some difficulty, lie, etc.
  3. 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.
Verb phrases
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.
  1. of present interest; under discussion.
  2. without delay; on the spot; at once:
    He was offered a job on the nail.
Origin of nail
before 900; (noun) Middle English nail(l), nayl(l), Old English nægl, cognate with Old Frisian neil, Old Saxon, Old High German nagal, Dutch nagel, German Nagel, Old Norse nagl fingernail, all < Germanic *naglaz; akin as derivative to Lithuanian nãgas, nagà hoof, OPruss nage foot, OCS noga leg, foot (Serbo-Croatian nòga, Czech noha, Russian nogá; probably orig. jocular reference to the foot as a hoof), OCS nogŭtĭ, Tocharian A maku, B mekwa fingernail, claw, all < North European Indo-European *Honogwh-; further akin to Old Irish ingen, Welsh ewin, Breton ivin < Celtic *ṇgwhīnā, Latin unguis < Italo-Celtic *Hongwhi-; Greek ónyx, stem onych-, Armenian ełungn < *Honogwh-; (v.) Middle English nail(l)(e), nayl(l)e(n), Old English næglian, cognate with Old Saxon neglian, Old High German negilen, Old Norse negla < Germanic *nagl-janan; compare Gothic ganagljan
Related forms
nailless, adjective
naillike, adjective
renail, verb (used with object)
5. fix, secure, pin, fasten. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for nail down
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Oh, it caught on a nail down at the boathouse, and a piece was ripped off.

    The Eight-Oared Victors

    Lester Chadwick
  • Nothing you could nail down, at first, but growing month by month.

    Martyr Alan Edward Nourse
  • The error—if error there was—was subtle and hard to nail down.

    Comrade Yetta Albert Edwards
  • "nail down every dollar," said Jack, and we all were busy with our nailing.

    Neighbours Robert Stead
  • Surprised at this, he laid the nail down on the ink-slab while he went out to ask whence the letter had come.

British Dictionary definitions for nail down

nail down

verb (transitive, adverb)
to fasten down with or as if with nails
(informal) to extort a definite promise or consent from: I nailed him down on the deadline
(informal) to settle in a definite way: they nailed down the agreement


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 toes See 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
  1. to chew off the ends of one's fingernails
  2. to be worried or apprehensive
hard as nails
  1. in tough physical condition
  2. 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)
verb (transitive)
to attach with or as if with nails
(informal) to arrest or seize
(informal) to hit or bring down, as with a shot: I 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
See also nail down, nail up
Derived Forms
nailer, noun
nail-less, adjective
Word Origin
Old English nǣgl; related to Old High German nagal nail, Latin unguis fingernail, claw, Greek onux
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 nail down



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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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nail down in Medicine

nail (nāl)

  1. A fingernail or toenail.

  2. A slender rod used in operations to fasten together the divided extremities of a broken bone.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Slang definitions & phrases for nail down



A hypodermic needle (1960s+ Narcotics)


  1. To catch; seize; nab: the feared and famous Batman and Robin who'd nailed him (1766+)
  2. To do the sex act to someone; fuck: the publishing cupcake in the Florsheims who nailed you on the couch and then fired you
  3. NAIL something DOWN: We've got it nailed

Related Terms

hard as nails

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with nail down

nail down

Establish conclusively, as in The reporter nailed down the story by checking all the facts. This metaphoric expression alludes to fixing or fastening something down with nails. [ c. 1600 ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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