tooth and nail

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English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From tooth + and + nail (fingernail, claw).

Adverb[edit]

tooth and nail

  1. Viciously; with all one's strength or power; without holding back.
    For a century, the two families fought tooth and nail over control of the land.
    • a. 1884, Charles Reade, 1887, Charles L. Reade, Compton Reade, Charles Reade, Dramatist, Novelist, Journalist: A Memoir Compiled Chiefly from His Literary Remains, Volume 2, page 229:
      "I shall fight tooth and nail for international copyright and stage-right, [] ."
    • 2007, Patrick Bentley, The Birth of a Song[1], page 76:
      At that time, I was young in the Lord, stood firm on what I believed, and I fought tooth and nail for what I thought was right in my mind and with God.
    • 2008, Laura Schenone, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family:
      The women struggle tooth and nail to gain office skills so they don't have to make Jell—O or pencils forever.
    • 2012 October 6, Education: Class Warfare, The Economist:
      In a second term Mr Obama’s administration is likely to press ahead with its struggle to hold for-profit colleges more accountable for their results: something the industry is fighting tooth and claw.
    • 2012 November 29, Christine Skwiot, The Purposes of Paradise: U.S. Tourism and Empire in Cuba and Hawai'i:
      We are striving tooth and nail to kill anything remotely suggestive of the hulas of ancient Hawaii.

Usage notes[edit]

  • The variant with tooth and nail is attested as early as the 16th century; see for example Arthur Golding, The Psalmes of David and others. With M. John Calvins Commentaries, 1571, “Epistle Dedicatorie”:[2]
    [They] labour with tooth and nayle too winde their owne trash into credit with all men, and to bring the heavenly doctrine of the Gospel in hatred.
  • The variant tooth and claw sometimes appears (though not as an adverb) as the fuller phrase nature, red in tooth and claw, which quotes 1850, Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam A. H. H.
    Who trusted God was love indeed
    And love Creation’s final law?
    Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
    With ravine, shriek’d against his creed?

Translations[edit]