Green’s Dictionary of Slang

nail n.1

1. (also dead nail, nailing rascal, nails) based on pun on sharp adj. (1)/SE sharp.

(a) [early-mid-19C] a shrewd, imposing criminal, ‘a person of an over-reaching, imposing disposition’ (Vaux).

(b) [early 19C] a gambler who cheats and/or refuses to pay his losses.

2. [late 19C] the penis.

3. [1910s–70s] (US) a venereal infection [the sharp pain in the penis when urinating].

4. abbr. coffin nail n.2

(a) [1910s+] a cigarette.

(b) [1970s+] (drugs) a marijuana cigarette.

5. [1930s+] (US drugs) a hypodermic syringe.

In phrases

nail in one’s coffin (n.)

[early–mid-19C] a drink of liquor; thus the invitation to drink, let’s put another nail in our coffins, let’s drive another nail...

pick up a nail (v.) [the way in which venereal disease can lead to a sharp pain in the penis when urinating]

[20C+] (W.I.) to contract venereal disease.

put another nail in one’s coffin (v.) (also add a nail/peg to one’s coffin, drive a nail/peg into one’s coffin) [pun on the sealing of a coffin + the pegs that once marked off alcoholic measures in a tankard]

[19C+] to drink heavily, to get drunk.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

nail bender (n.)

[1920s+] (US) a carpenter, a blacksmith.

nail can (n.) [the shape of the cylindrical hat]

[late 19C–1950s] (Aus.) a top hat.

nail groper (n.) (also grubber)

[mid-19C] one who scours the streets in search of old nails and similar saleable pieces of lost or discarded metal.

nail keg (n.) [the hat resembles the shape of a SAmE nail keg, a small barrel in which nails are shipped]

[mid-19C–1900s] (US) a top hat.

nailrod (n.) [resemblance to SE nailrod, a rod of metal from which nails are cut] [late 19C–1920s] (Aus./N.Z.)

1. a stick of ‘Two Seas’ tobacco.

2. any dark tobacco.

In phrases

eat one’s nails (v.) [ety. unknown]

[early 18C] to do something foolish.

give someone a bent nail (v.)

[1950s] (US) to make an unclear, misleading statement.

go off at the nail (v.) [the image of two parts of a pair of scissors flying apart when the nail that links them snaps or falls out]

[early 18C+] (Ulster/Scot.) to become confused or flustered.

off the nail (adj.) [phr. go off at the nail, to behave strangely]

[early 19C] tipsy, slightly drunk.