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Worn to the quick

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 20, 2007

In Reply to: Worn to the quick posted by Bob on May 20, 2007

: : Anybody know the origin of "worn to the quick?" It seems to generaly be used for fingernails, as in "fingernails worn to the quick." But I've read "boots worn to the quick" as well.

: Google searches: "worn to the quick" 1000 hits, "cut to the quick" 72,000 hits, "boots worn to the quick" 2 hits, neither by native English speakers. The moral of the statistical story? "Cut to the quick" is relatively common, as the quick (the tender area under the fingernail) is most often exposed by cutting. "Worn to the quick" is a little odd, but plausible. Applying the phrase to something where there would be no sensitivity or pain looks a bit like a mistake.

Quick, the adjective, means alive (as well as fast or nimble), but that doesn't help the supposed metaphor at all. What's the "quick" of a boot? If you wear right through the boot, you get to the quick of the foot. But that's really too roundabout to be useful. And since the whole foot is "quick," what's the point?