Fight Tooth and Nail: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
December 11, 2023

The expression "fight tooth and nail" conveys a deep commitment to doing everything in one's power to achieve a goal or resist opposition. It paints a vivid picture of someone using every last bit of their strength and determination as if fighting with both teeth and nails, to secure a win or defend their position. This phrase can describe a multitude of scenarios, from competitive sports to passionate debates, underscoring a relentless drive and unwavering persistence.

In short:

"Fight tooth and nail" means to fight with great effort or intensity.

What Does "Fight Tooth and Nail" Mean?

The idiom "fight tooth and nail" describes someone who is trying very hard to achieve something, especially when they face tough opposition or challenges.

  • It suggests giving everything you have to win or succeed.
  • It can mean defending one's opinion, rights, or possessions with determination and zeal.

Where Does "Fight Tooth and Nail" Come From?

The phrase comes from the descriptive imagery of a wild beast in a fierce battle, using its teeth and nails (or claws) as weapons. The earliest known use of this expression in print was in the 1560s. However, the phrase’s roots can be traced back to the Latin phrase “toto corpore atque omnibus ungulis,” meaning "all the body and every nail." The phrase was used in Sir Thomas More’s “In a Dialogue of Comfort and Tribulation” in 1535. But it didn’t really take off until the 1700s.

Historical Origins

“...but she is digging its grave tooth and nail ”

- a line from The Works of Charles Reade: The Cloister and the Hearth written in 1800.

10 Examples of "Fight Tooth and Nail" in Sentences

To help you understand better, here are some examples:

  • I fought tooth and nail to seal the deal with the investors.
  • She fought tooth and nail to get that promotion at work.
  • Don't sell yourself short; you fought tooth and nail to get to where you are now.
  • If you challenge her ideas, she'll fight you tooth and nail.
  • The company fought tooth and nail to prevent a hostile takeover.
  • He is fighting tooth and nail against the new regulations.
  • They fought tooth and nail to save the old building from demolition.
  • Fighting tooth and nail is the only way to survive in this competitive world.
  • I promise I'll do my best and fight tooth and nail to secure that contract for our company.
  • That girl fought tooth and nail just to climb the social ladder.

Examples of "Fight Tooth and Nail" in Pop Culture

  • The song "Fight Tooth and Nail" by Virgin Steele revolves around the idea of trying hard not to fail someone.
  • The line "We'll fight them, tooth and nail" appeared in Season 5, Episode 15, of Dirilis: Ertugrul.
  • The book The House of Mitford by Jonathan Guinness has the line "...fight tooth and nail against the Germans whom he had long known so intimately and admired so well..."

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Fight Tooth and Nail"

  • Struggle fiercely
  • Battle for
  • Defend vigorously
  • Contest strongly
  • Resist with all one's might

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Fight Tooth and Nail":

  • What is the basic meaning of "fight tooth and nail"?

The idiom means to fight or struggle fiercely, with full effort and determination.

  • When was this idiom first used?

It was first used in the late 1500s, with a notable mention in Shakespeare's "King Lear" in 1605.

  • Is it used only in the context of physical fights?

No, it is applicable in various situations, not just physical fights.

  • Can this idiom be used in a positive context?

Yes, it can describe determination and effort in any challenging situation.

  • Is it a global idiom?

It is widely understood in English-speaking countries. However, its direct translation may not be recognized globally.

  • What's the opposite of "fight tooth and nail"?

An opposite could be "give in easily" or "surrender without a fight."

  • Can you use this idiom in a formal setting?

While it's not overtly informal, there might be more formal alternatives to use depending on the context.

  • Is it a metaphor?

Yes, it's a metaphorical expression comparing fierce human determination to the way wild animals might use their teeth and nails in a fight.

  • Are there similar idioms in other languages?

Many languages have idioms expressing fierce determination, though they might not use the same imagery.

  • Why are teeth and nails associated with fierce fighting?

It draws on the image of animals using their natural weapons – teeth and claws – in intense battles.

Final Thoughts About "Fight Tooth and Nail"

"Fight tooth and nail" is evocative of relentless determination and effort. Whether you're battling against formidable odds, defending a cherished belief, or simply expressing the extent of your commitment, it is a vivid way to communicate that you're giving it your all.

Here's a quick wrap-up:

  • It is about putting in maximum effort and showing determination.
  • It's been used for centuries, showing its timeless appeal and relevance.
  • The idiom is used in numerous contexts, not just actual fights.

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