Bite One’s Nails

Meaning of Idiom ‘Bite One’s Nails’

To bite one’s nails is to show signs of nervousness, anxiety, impatience, etc. 1Ammer, Christine.  American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,2Pare, May. Body Idioms and More: For Learners of English. United States?: Mayuree Pare, 2005.,3Brenner, Gail Abel.  Webster’s New World American Idioms Handbook. Wiley, 2003.

Usage

Although this idiom refers to the nervous habit of biting one’s nails, a person does not have to actually be biting their nails for the expression to apply.

Examples Of Use

“Mary is due today and we’ll all be biting our nails until the baby is born.”

“Traffic was so slow today I was sure I was going to miss my meeting. I was biting my nails all the way there.”

“The whole gymnastics team was biting their nails waiting for the judges’ decision.”

Origin

Biting one’s nails has been known as a nervous habit since ancient times, and this idiom refers figuratively to this sign of emotional tension. As from the Roman satire Horace in 35 B.C. who wrote in Satires, Book 1 4Ammer, Christine.  American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.:

“…as he wrought his verse he would oft scratch his head and gnaw his nails to the quick.”

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Sources   [ + ]

1, 4. Ammer, Christine.  American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. Pare, May. Body Idioms and More: For Learners of English. United States?: Mayuree Pare, 2005.
3. Brenner, Gail Abel.  Webster’s New World American Idioms Handbook. Wiley, 2003.