Entries linking to nail-clippers
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.
late 14c., "sheep-shearer;" early 15c., "a barber;" c. 1300 as a surname; agent noun from Middle English clippen "shorten" (see clip (v.1)). In late 18c., the word principally meant "one who cuts off the edges of coins" for the precious metal.
The type of sailing ship with sharp lines and a great spread of canvas is so called from 1823 (in Cooper's "The Pilot"), probably from clip (v.1) in sense of "to move or run rapidly." Compare early 19c. clipper "person or animal who looks capable of fast running." Perhaps it was influenced by Middle Dutch klepper "swift horse," which is echoic (Clipper appears as the name of an English race horse in 1831). The nautical sense was perhaps originally simply "fast ship," regardless of type:
Well, you know, the Go-along-Gee was one o' your flash Irish cruisers — the first o' your fir-built frigates — and a clipper she was! Give her a foot o' the sheet, and she'd go like a witch — but somehow o'nother, she'd bag on a bowline to leeward. ["Naval Sketch-Book," by "An officer of rank," London, 1826]
The early association of the ships was with Baltimore, Maryland. Clipper-ship is attested from 1850.
updated on August 04, 2019