Hit the nail on the head
Posted by Henry on June 02, 2004
In Reply to: Thanks, James -- good travels posted by Ward on June 02, 2004
: : : In a prior thread, Bruce Kahl answered the question with a much more specific and appropriate answer than the one I gave. My response to him was "you nailed it!' meaning that he absolutely got it right. Then I looked in the archives, and didn't find the source of this expression. Does anyone know how a carpentry act became associated with outstanding performance?
: : Could this help?
: : To nail a lie is to expose an untruth, but why "nail"? It is said that the saying comes from the habit of traders nailing counterfeit coins to shop counters for all to see and recognise.
: : Nail is also used in the sense of to be caught/punished for a misdemeanour, such as in 'I'll nail you for that'. The origin here seems to come from a few centuries ago when, in Britain, 'justice' was meted out mostly by hanging or flogging. However there were some crimes for which you could be "nailed". For these crimes you would be taken to the hangman's gibbet and nailed through the earlobe(s) until night. You had two options: you could either stand all day, nailed to the scaffold or else tear your ear from the nail. Women could also be nailed through the tongue for spreading malicious gossip.
: : Auf Wiedersehen!
: Have a wonderful holiday.... and, thanks.
To nail something means to do it successfully. When you find the solution to a problem, you hit the nail on the head. Perhaps this is the origin of the phrase.
I may have mentioned it before, but the Sooty Show often ended with Harry Corbett holding a nail and Sooty the puppet holding a hammer. With both his hands occupied, Harry Corbett would say, "When I nod my head, I want you to hit it!" Sooty always obliged.