Etymology
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nail (n.)

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.

nail (v.)

Old English næglian "to fix or fasten (something) onto (something else) with nails," from Proto-Germanic *ganaglijan (source also of Old Saxon neglian, Old Norse negla, Old High German negilen, German nageln, Gothic ganagljan "to nail"), from the root of nail (n.). Related: Nailed; nailing. The colloquial meaning "secure, succeed in catching or getting hold of (someone or something)" is by 1760; hence "to arrest" (by 1930). Meaning "to succeed in hitting" is from 1886. To nail down "to fix down with nails" is from 1660s.

updated on May 22, 2020

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Definitions of nail from WordNet
1
nail (v.)
attach something somewhere by means of nails;
nail the board onto the wall
nail (v.)
take into custody;
Synonyms: collar / apprehend / arrest / pick up / nab / cop
nail (v.)
hit hard;
Synonyms: smash / boom / blast
nail (v.)
succeed in obtaining a position;
He nailed down a spot at Harvard
Synonyms: nail down / peg
nail (v.)
succeed at easily;
She nailed her astrophysics course
Synonyms: breeze through / ace / pass with flying colors / sweep through / sail through
nail (v.)
locate exactly;
The chemists could not nail the identity of the chromosome
Synonyms: pinpoint
nail (v.)
complete a pass;
Synonyms: complete
2
nail (n.)
horny plate covering and protecting part of the dorsal surface of the digits;
nail (n.)
a thin pointed piece of metal that is hammered into materials as a fastener;
nail (n.)
a former unit of length for cloth equal to 1/16 of a yard;
From wordnet.princeton.edu, not affiliated with etymonline.