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Nail-biter is an interesting idiom. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom nail-biter where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

A nail-biter is a suspenseful situation, a contest in which either participant has a good chance of winning, an anxiety-provoking circumstance. For instance, a horror movie may be a nail-biter; a game in which the score is tied may be a nail-biter; or a political election in which the outcome is uncertain may be a nail-biter. Nail-biter may also have a literal meaning, indicating a person who bites his nails. The expression nail-biter comes from the fact that many people have the nervous habit of biting their fingernails when under stress. Biting one’s nails has been recognized as a sign of anxiety since the 1500s, though the noun, nail-biter, only came into use in the mid-twentieth century. Nail-biter is a hyphenated compound word. A compound word is a word derived from two or more separate words used together to create another word. Compound words are new words that have a different meaning than the definitions of the original words. 


It was a nail-biter for me to be her caregiver until the time she could get the right legal documents in place. (AARP Magazine)

After trailing by four runs, Central East Maui rallied to edge Kawaihau 6-5 in a nail-biter at the Hawaii State Little League Majors (10-12) State Tournament at Dorvin Leis Field at Kalama Park. (Maui News)

This nail-biter election generated the highest U.S. voter turnout rate in 120 years (Fortune)