Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group.

EXAMPLES FROM THE WEB FOR NAILS DOWN

Also one should trim one's nails down as close as comfort will allow.

At intervals he would gnaw his nails down to the quick while snorts of bridled fury escaped through his pallid lips.

I bit my nails down to the quick till I had an idea—sitting out on this very coast.

It took him most of the evening to fasten on pieces of leather with nails, and to knock the nails down.

WORD ORIGIN

Old English negel "metal pin," nægl "fingernail (handnægl), toenail," from Proto-Germanic *naglaz (cf. Old Norse nagl "fingernail," nagli "metal nail;" Old Saxon and Old High German nagel, Old Frisian neil, Middle Dutch naghel, Dutch nagel, German Nagel "fingernail, small metal spike"), from PIE root *(o)nogh "nail" (cf. Greek onyx "claw, fingernail;" Latin unguis "nail, claw;" Old Church Slavonic noga "foot," noguti "nail, claw;" Lithuanian naga "hoof," nagutis "fingernail;" Old Irish ingen, Old Welsh eguin "nail, claw").

The "fingernail" sense seems to be the original one. Nail polish attested from 1891. To bite one's nails as a sign of anxiety is attested from 1570s. Nail-biting is from 1805. Hard as nails is from 1828. To hit the nail on the head "say or do just the right thing" is first recorded 1520s. Phrase on the nail "on the spot, exactly" is from 1590s, of obscure origin; OED says it is not even certain it belongs to this sense of nail.

Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group.