spit[ting] nails

Dave Hause dwhause at JOBE.NET
Fri Sep 23 23:28:10 UTC 2011

Not being any sort of researcher, I think the original metaphor may have
been about being mad enough to "chew horseshoes and spit nails."
Dave Hause, dwhause at jobe.net
Waynesville, MO
----- Original Message -----
From: "victor steinbok" <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Friday, September 23, 2011 4:35 AM
Subject: spit[ting] nails

> Boehner was described as "spitting nails" during a closed-door member
> meeting on Wednesday, and his harsh talk demonstrated that the usually
> unflappable speaker is reaching something close to a breaking point with
> his
> internally divided conference.

OED does not have this. Farlex does:

> spit nails  (American & Australian informal) also spit chips/tacks
> (Australian informal)
>  to speak or behave in a way that shows you are very angry He was spitting
> nails when he saw what had happened to his car.

Not just Amero-Australian, it seems (it would have been a strange

      Tory MPs 'spitting nails' over 1922 committee changes
> Some, to quote an unhappy MP, are spitting nails.
> Their fury is all the greater because the changes, and the poll to confirm
> them, were announced without warning at a meeting many thought was called
> to
> ask their opinions on the coalition deal.

This also prompted a comment on the Village Carpenter blog:

 I Could Spit Nails!

> My new favorite saying prompted me to list all the commonly-used phrases
> and metaphors I could think of that involve some aspect of woodworking.
> Here's what I came up with:

This is followed by a list of 34 expressions that may or may not have
anything to do with "woodworking" (no pun intended):

Hard as nails
> Going against the grain
> Stiff as a board
> Not the sharpest tool in the shed
> Coming out of the woodwork
> Hone your skills
> Carve a niche for yourself
> Dovetail two thoughts
> Hammer out the details
> You nailed it!
> You hit the nail on the head.
> They axed the idea
> I have an axe to grind [sic]
> Back to the grind
> On the level
> Rule of thumb
> She's the glue that holds the family together
> A cut above the rest
> He's a real stud
> They're totally hammered
> He's a chip off the old block
> She has a chip on her shoulder
> Let's get down to the nuts and bolts of the project
> I have a knot in my shoulder
> Jack of all trades, master of none
> Chiseled features
> Throw a wrench in it
> On the cutting edge
> Vise-like grip
> As dumb as a stump
> We're totally screwed
> That smell could peel bark off a tree

I can peel off half a dozen that don't have anything to do with wood or
woodworking off the top. Some may be generic enough to "include"
woodworking, although I would not have included them. Somewhere George
Lakoff is sharpening his tools...

He forgot "dumb as a bag of hammers" (or rocks, nails, bricks, "load of
bricks", etc.). There's unflattering "flat as a board", crude "nail X's
ass", "blockhead", "wooden", "sharp as nails" (not sure which kind of
"nails" though), "chiseled" (more sculpting than woodworking, I
suppose)--and corresponding "chip away at X" and "put together" (both fairly
generic, though), "got X in the vise", "glued/nailed to the wall/TV/etc.",
"nailed shut", "hammer [away] at X until [he/it] cracks", "turn of the
screw", "smooth out the bumps" (I suppose, more generic), "take/polish the
edge off", "watching the paint dry", "spit and polish[ed]", "drive a wedge


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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