Fight Tooth and Nail - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did someone accuse you of doing them wrong? If so, you could “fight tooth and nail” to prove your innocence. This post looks at the meaning and origin of this expression.

Fight Tooth and Nail Meaning

To “fight tooth and nail” means that you’re going to engage in physical or verbal combat with one or more people. The engagement could occur as a life-threatening physical altercation or a heated verbal exchange.

You can use this saying in many circumstances. For instance, you could “fight tooth and nail” when defending yourself from attackers. Or, you could “fight tooth and nail” to protest someone accusing you of something you didn’t do.

The phrase refers to an intense situation where both parties to the engagement are doing their best to battle each other ferociously. The term can also refer to providing stiff competition in an event, such as fighting tooth and nail for the heavyweight boxing championship.

When you “fight tooth and nail,” you’re employing all your resources and throwing caution to the wind to secure a successful outcome.

Fight Tooth and Nail Example Usage

“My company is accusing me of insubordination, and I’m going to need to fight tooth and nail to prove otherwise.”

“My lawyer says we’re going to protest the charges and fight tooth and nail to prove my innocence.”

“I tried to convince Sally she’s making a mistake, but all she does is fight tooth and nail to try and prove I’m wrong.”

“We will fight tooth and nail to have the charges dropped; there’s no way the DA can make them stick.”

“Watch those two fight tooth and nail about who gets the top bunk bed tonight.”

Fight Tooth and Nail Origin

The origin of “fight tooth and nail” comes from the Latin phrase “toto corpore atque omnibus ungulis,” meaning “all the body and every nail.” The first recorded use of this expression appeared in writing in the 1560s by the author, Ninian Winget, in his book “Certain Tractates.”

Experts think that the proverbial use of the saying means that it was around many decades or even centuries before Winget used it in his writings.

The phrase would appear again in writing in 1850. Author Charles Dickens used the saying in his book, “David Copperfield,” and most experts agree that this use of the phrase is the beginning of its popularity in modern language.

Phrases Similar to Fight Tooth and Nail

  • Hammer and tongs.
  • Hog-wild.
  • At each other’s throats.
  • Pulling teeth.

Phrases Opposite to Fight Tooth and Nail

  • Submission.
  • Let someone run over you.
  • Let it go.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Fight tooth and nail.
  • Fighting tooth and nail.

Ways People May Say Fight Tooth and Nail Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with teeth or nails. It’s a way of expressing your commitment to defending yourself from physical or verbal attacks. Using the term to describe how you’re fighting a toothache or a hangnail is the incorrect use of the expression. It’s also inaccurate to use the plurals of “fights” and “nails” when using the saying.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Fight Tooth and Nail

You can use the phrase “fight tooth and nail” when you’re referring to physical conflicts or arguments. For instance, if someone attacks you when walking home, you’ll fight tooth and nail to protect your life. If someone at work accuses you of misconduct, you would protest the allegations and ‘’fight tooth and nail’ to prove your innocence. The phrase refers to putting up the best defense possible, even if it means it may cost you your life or your reputation.

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