Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Jan 5 08:09:13 UTC 2005

* nail-biting, a. = 'tense, suspenseful' (OED3 1962)

1946 _Los Angeles Times_ 21 Nov. II2/3 Natural melodrama resulting from a
U-boat's stalking of an allied freighter, and the undersea prowler's
eventual destruction, generates enough nail-biting suspense for anyone.

1950 _Washington Post_ 16 June C9/1 It's got believable characters,
nail-biting suspense and that canny thing called style.

1951 _Syracuse Herald Journal_ 9 Dec. 39/2 The screenplay, now at the
Midtown, also was written by Williams, and it makes a nerve-wracking,
nail-biting film.

1952 _New York Times_ 5 Nov. 41/2 Dalray kept his backers guessing until
the final furlongs, producing a nail-biting finish which matched the
pre-race confusion.

* nail-bitingly (OED3 1961)

1958 _New York Times_ 28 Mar. 29/3 All of these dangerous adventures are
severely, nail-bitingly tense.

* nail-biter = 'a suspenseful event, situation, etc.' (OED3 1971)

1957 _New York Times_ 1 Nov. 31/1 (advt.) A chase story -- a real
nail-biter! [Quoting Newsweek review of the film _Across The Bridge_]

1958 _Holland Evening Sentinel_ (Michigan) 21 July 9/1 Bunning's effort
crescendoed into a nail-biter in the ninth inning.

1958 _Washington Post_ 21 Sep. C7/1 Chevy Chase won the Interclub League B
division championship, defeating Buckingham in a playoff that was a real

1959 _Washington Post_ 28 Feb. A10/7 George Washington University was
defeated in a nail-biter by The Citadel, 53-52.

--Ben Zimmer

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