Tooth and Nails – Idiom, Meaning and Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Have you ever fought for something tooth and nail? Did I just confuse you? Fighting tooth and nail is a saying we’ve been using for ages. But what does it actually mean, and are we even using it correctly? I’ll tell you all about its origin and show you how to use this expression in a sentence. Let’s get ready to rumble!

Meaning of Fight Tooth and Nail

Tooth and Nails – Idiom Meaning and Origin

Fighting tooth and nail doesn’t refer to a brutal dental procedure or a wild manicure session. It’s actually an idiom describing a scenario where someone is fighting very hard or with great intensity and determination. We use this English phrase when someone is giving their all, striving with every bit of their effort — just as an animal might literally fight with its teeth and claws.

Is Fighting Tooth and Nail an Idiom?

Absolutely, yes! To fight tooth and nail is a colorful idiom; rest assured, no actual dentistry or manicure skills come into play here. It’s just a figure of speech used to convey the idea of struggling fiercely or battling ferociously to achieve something.

Origin and Etymology Behind Fighting Tooth and Nail

Fighting Tooth and Nails Ngram
Fighting tooth and nail usage trend.

The phrase fight tooth and nail comes from the descriptive imagery of a wild beast in a fierce battle, using its teeth and nails (or claws) as weapons.

It was used in Sir Thomas More’s work called “In a Dialogue of Comfort and Tribulation”:

“They would fayne kepe them as long as euer they mighte, euen with tooth and nayle.”

This was in 1535, but the phrase never really took off until the 1700s.

Synonyms for Tooth and Nail

  • With all one’s might
  • Hammer and tongs
  • Full tilt
  • Claws out
  • Hell for leather
  • All out

Tooth and Nail Examples in a Sentence

Tooth and Nails – Idiom Meaning and Origin 1

  • I fought tooth and nail to approve this publishing project with my editor.
  • He was determined to win the competition and was more than willing to fight with teeth and nails for it.
  • My best friend and her husband fought tooth and nail to protect their land from big city developers.
  • My mother fought tooth and nail for parental rights in court.
  • The underdog team fought tooth and nail, surprising everyone with their win.
  • Fighting tooth and nail, the young activist made significant changes in her community.
  • They worked hard and fought tooth and nail to ensure a good education for their children.
  • Despite his injury, he fought tooth and nail to finish the race.
  • She’ll fight tooth and nail to keep her position in the company.
  • They’re fighting tooth and nail to prevent that law from being passed.

Don’t Use Your Teeth for That

So, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re struggling fiercely to attain your goal, remember you’re fighting tooth and nail. It’s a pretty common idiom that reminds us that some things are worth fighting for with all the energy and determination we can muster. But don’t take it too literally; we don’t need any manicure mishaps or dental disasters on our hands (or feet).

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