What Does to Bite One’s Nails Mean?

Bite One’s Nails Meaning

Definition: A sign of anxiety, impatience, or nervousness.

Chewing on one’s nails is often a nervous habit. It can be used, then, to describe an experience that is harrowing or anxiety-ridden.

You do not actually need to have bitten your nails for you to use this expression; it is common to say an experience was nail biting just to imply that it scared you, not that you bit your nails.

Origin of Bite One’s Nails

nail biting fingernailsAs early as 35 B.C., people were biting their nails as a nervous impulse. The Roman Satirist Horace wrote in his book Satires, Book 1:

  • As he wrought his verse he would often … gnaw his nails to the quick.

English speakers’ use of it today comes from the literal act of chewing on one’s nails.

Examples of Bite One’s Nails

what does it mean when you bite your nailsIn the modern day, many people do actually bite their nails in stressful situations. They also use the phrase, however, to merely talk about a stressful situation.

For example,

  • The roads were slick and traffic was horrible during the snowstorm. We were biting our nails the whole way.

The phrase can also be shortened to nail biting as an adjective, as in,

  • The new roller coaster was terrifying. It was nail biting.

Here is another example of a couple going to the movies,

Boy: Have you seen this movie?

Girl: No, but I heard it was excellent.

Boy: So have I. I hear it’s a real nail biter. We should check it out.

Girl: That works for me!

More Examples

  • Although the film will entertain, Mr. Snowden’s fans will find it the perfect companion piece to the Academy Award-winning documentary “Citizenfour” that often delivered more nail-biting tension and expose on the theft’s consequences than Mr. Stone’s efforts. –The Washington Times
  • Let’s stand in solidarity with the Ducks (University of Oregon), though, and bite our nails together. It’s not like OSU is safe either. –The Corvallis Advocate


Biting one’s nails is a nervous habit; to describe an event as nail biting or to say that you were biting your nails about something, whether you physically bit your nails or not, means that the situation was stress- or anxiety-inducing.