Tooth and Nail

Meanings of “Tooth and Nail”

The phrase “tooth and nail” means to fight with every available means. However, it is mostly used to refer to a fight fought wildly, utilizing all sources and energy.

Origin of “Tooth and Nail”

The phrase “tooth and nail” is said to have originated from Sir Thomas More’s In A Dialogue of Comfort and Tribulation, published in 1535, where it is stated as; “They would fayne kepe them as long as euer they mighte, euen with tooth and nayle.”

Later, in 1850, the phrase was sighted in Charles Dickens’s popular work, David Copperfield, where it is stated as; “I got at it tooth and nail.”

Examples from Literature

Example #1

The Benefactors by Rudyard Kipling

 “When in this world’s unpleasing youth
Our godlike race began,
The longest arm, the sharpest tooth,
Gave man control of man;

Till, bruised and bitten to the bone
And taught by pain and fear,
He learned to deal the far-off stone,
And poke the long, safe spear.

So tooth and nail were obsolete
As means against a foe,
Till, bored by uniform defeat,
Some genius built the bow.

Then stone and javelin proved as vain
   As old-time tooth and nail;
Till, spurred anew by fear and pain,
   Man fashioned coats of mail.

Then was there safety for the rich
   And danger for the poor,
Till someone mixed a powder which
   Redressed the scale once more.

Helmet and armor disappeared
   With sword and bow and pike,
And, when the smoke of battle cleared,
   All men were armed alike.”

The poem narrates how people use different ammunitions for different arms. The speaker foresees the time when our unpleasing youth will confront a heart-wrenching situation, where men will fight tooth and nail with all possible means. Each defeat will likely lead us to build a new fighting tool, while the old fighting tools will lose their attraction. Ironically, the new efforts will push the world toward a drastic situation with a resultant loss of humanity and moral values. However, the new weapons will bring peace and comfort to the rich. Despite this, the plight of the lower class will remain the same, facing a new threat to their existence. Therefore, the phrase shows its implicit but metaphorical usage through these lines.

Example #2

Dream On by Miracle Camacho

“Dream no matter what your critics say
Block them out right the way
Perhaps they are mad they don’t dream
Remember nothing ever what it seems.

Some will even fight you tooth and nail
So that dream inside you won’t prevail
Don’t give up on it you mustn’t quit
Know this that they’re just all full of it.”

These two quatrains spoken by the poet highlights the importance of dreaming. In the first quatrain, he motivates others to dream no matter what people say about it. To him, those who lack the power to dream always demotivate others. The speaker also warns of the tricks they play on innocent people. However, the second quatrain further explains their cunningness that they never allow anyone to reach their dream and suppress their inner strength. The speaker advises the readers to recognize the negativity they hide behind the face of a positive attitude and never give up on their dreams.

Example #3

Tooth and Nail by Jessica Raney

The novel presents the story of Delilah Monroe, who does a petty job of working in a store and lives with her cousin, despite having dreams to change her career path. Living away from her family, she is desperate to choose between herself and the sibling doing mistakes. As the story progresses, her entire effort, thus, shows a metaphorical presentation of this phrase.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “Last year, I met a serious accident that badly affected my performance in office. I suffered both physically and mentally. Now recovered, I am trying to fight tooth and nail for the promotion I failed to achieve last time.”

Example #2: “Italian Prime Minister confronts a tooth and nail fight with his opponents when the parliament returned on Monday for the first time since last month’s elections.”

Example #3: “Unfortunately, the world order is in extreme chaos. Our generations have become bloodthirsty as they are fighting each other tooth and nail even without a clear understanding of their actions.”

Example #4: “The government is fighting tooth and nail to eradicate corruption, terrorism and other social issues from the country.”

Example #5: “After passing various tests and trials, these brave knights got selected to fight tooth and nail for the safety of the state.”