Entries linking to finger-nail
"terminal or digital member of the hand" (in a restricted sense not including the thumb), Old English finger, fingor "finger," from Proto-Germanic *fingraz (source also of Old Saxon fingar, Old Frisian finger, Old Norse fingr, Dutch vinger, German Finger, Gothic figgrs "finger"), with no cognates outside Germanic; perhaps ultimately from PIE root *penkwe- "five."
As a unit of measure for liquor and gunshot (late Old English) it represents the breadth of a finger, about three-quarters of an inch. They generally are numbered from the thumb outward, and named index finger, fool's finger, leech- or physic-finger, and ear-finger.
Old English negel "tapering metal pin," nægl "fingernail (handnægl), toenail," from Proto-Germanic *naglaz (source also of 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 of the finger or toe" (source also of Greek onyx "claw, fingernail;" Latin unguis "fingernail, claw;" Old Church Slavonic noga "foot," noguti "fingernail, claw;" Lithuanian naga "hoof," nagutis "fingernail;" Old Irish ingen, Old Welsh eguin "fingernail, claw").
The "fingernail" sense seems to be the original one, but many figurative uses are from the "small metal spike" sense: hard as nails is from 1828. To hit the nail on the head "say or do just the right thing" is by 1520s; in Middle English driven in the nail (c. 1400) was "to drive home one's point, clinch an argument," and smiten the nail on the hed was "tell the exact truth" (mid-15c.). Phrase on the nail "on the spot, exactly" is from 1590s, of obscure origin; OED says it is not certain it belongs to this sense of nail.
As a unit of English cloth measure (about 2 1/4 inches) from late 14c.; perhaps from a nail being used to mark that length on the end of a yardstick.
updated on October 10, 2017