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) a shrewd, imposing criminal, ‘a person of an over-reaching, imposing disposition’ (Vaux).

[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 253: A person of an over-reaching, imposing disposition, is called a nail, a dead nail, a nailing rascal, a rank needle, or a needle pointer.
[UK]W. Probert (ed.) History of murder of Mr Weare 218: Mr. Weare was one of this number — he was what is termed in the Sporting World a dead nail — a complete sharper — ready at all times to pick up a flat.
[UK]Paul Pry 30 Sept. 182/2: Sam took good care to keep them at his house till they had spent their money and mortgaged their farms; which but few- ever got back; this got him the name of Terry the nail.

(b) a gambler who cheats and/or refuses to pay his losses.

[UK]W. Perry London Guide 52: The gentleman was bothered into the deposit of his money to play with one who was a dead nail! A plant!
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ A Dict. of the Turf, The Ring, The Chase, etc. 123: A cheat, who runs into debt without intending to pay, is a nail; and he who lays sharping wagers, or tosses up unfairly, is a dead nail.
[UK]Egan Recollections of J. Thurtell 34: He was what is termed in the sporting world a deal nail [...] a complete sharper.

2. the penis.

[UK]‘Walter’ My Secret Life (1996) II 390: ‘Look, it’s getting bigger, I did not think it would be so big, - don’t hurt me with your nail sir please,’ said she, frigging away clumsily, and when it was stiff leaving off, but looking earnestly at my pego.

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

[US]E. O’Neill Iceman Cometh 162: I picked up a nail from some tart in Altoona .
R. Alley Last Tango in Paris 125: I picked up a nail when I was in Cuba in ’48, and now I’ve got a prostate the size of a potato .

4. abbr. coffin nail n.2

(a) a cigarette.

[UK](con. WWI) in Fraser & Gibbons Soldier and Sailor Words.
[US] ‘Smokers’ Sl.’ in AS XV:3 Oct. 335/2: To smoke is [...] to put a nail in one’s coffin.
[US]J. Jones From Here to Eternity (1998) 154: ‘A stinking nail. I’m thirsty for a nail.’ Grinning, Prew reluctantly pulled out his almost empty pack. ‘First you take my money, then you want me to provide you with tobacco.’.
[UK]Wodehouse Jeeves in the Offing 99: [I] was having the pre-dinner keg of nails in the smoking room.
[US]Baker et al. CUSS.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.
[Aus]G. Seal Lingo 153: A short break from work, long enough to roll a fag (or smoke, ciggy, burn, nail, the latter becoming popular since the linking of smoking with lung cancer and meaning a coffin nail) and smoke it.
[US]E. Weiner Big Boat to Bye-Bye 175: ‘Gotta nail?’ I took my own sweet time in reaching into my pocket for a pack.

(b) (drugs) a marijuana cigarette.

[US]ONDCP Street Terms 15: Nail — Marijuana cigarette.

5. (US drugs) a hypodermic syringe.

[US]D. Maurer ‘Argot of the Und. Narcotic Addict’ Pt 1 in AS XI:2 124/1: nail. A hypodermic needle.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]H. Braddy ‘Narcotic Argot Along the Mexican Border’ in AS XXX:2 87: HARD NAIL, n. phr. Needle.
[US]R.R. Lingeman Drugs from A to Z (1970).
[US]E.E. Landy Underground Dict. (1972).

In phrases

nail in one’s coffin (n.)

a drink of liquor; thus the invitation to drink, let’s put another nail in our coffins, let’s drive another nail...

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 267: [note] A glass of spirits is termed, among the wet ones, adding ‘another nail to the coffin’.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 185: “Nail in one’s coffin” a dram, “a drop o’ sumat’ short,” a jocular, but disrespectful phrase, used by the lower orders to each other at the moment of lifting a glass of spirits to their lips. “Well, good luck! here’s another nail in my coffin.”.
[UK]Sl. Dict. [as prev.] [...] This is probably in ridicule of teetotal or temperance preachers, and the arguments adduced by them.
[UK]Morn. Post (London) 18 Feb. 2/3: American invitations to drink [...] ‘Let’s drive another nail,’ ‘what’s your medicine?’.
pick up a nail (v.) [the way in which venereal disease can lead to a sharp pain in the penis when urinating]

(W.I.) to contract venereal disease.

[WI]cited in Allsopp Dict. Carib. Eng. Usage (1996).
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]

to drink heavily, to get drunk.

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 267: [note] A glass of spirits is termed, among the wet ones, adding ‘another nail to the coffin’.
[UK]Fonblanque Eng. Under Seven Adm. (1837) III 321: A dram which ... drives nails into the victim’s coffin [F&H].
[UK]‘William Juniper’ True Drunkard’s Delight 227: Perhaps the invitation was to put another nail in his coffin.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

nail bender (n.)

(US) a carpenter, a blacksmith.

[US]T.A. Dorgan in Zwilling TAD Lex. 118: Listening to a pair of nail benders as they pull off their daily razz.
[US]Grant Angel and Badman [film] You dimwitted nail-bender! Why don’t you marry that girl? [HDAS].
‘Construction Jargon’ Construction Site [Internet] Nail Bender: Carpenter.
nail groper (n.) (also grubber)

one who scours the streets in search of old nails and similar saleable pieces of lost or discarded metal.

[UK]G. Smeeton Doings in London 126: There are also the grubbers, or nail-gropers; of these there are few indeed, Mr. M’Adam having nearly annihilated their trade: they procure a livelihood by whatever they can find in grubbing out the dirt from between the stones with a crooked bit of iron, in search of the nails that fall from horse-shoes.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
nail keg (n.) [the hat resembles the shape of a SAmE nail keg, a small barrel in which nails are shipped]

(US) a top hat.

[US]‘Mark Twain’ Innocents Abroad 269: [Americans] wear a conical hat termed a ‘nail-kag’.
[US]Carr & Chase in ‘Word-List From Aroostook’ in DN III:v 414: nailkeg, n. A silk hat.
nailrod (n.) [resemblance to SE nailrod, a rod of metal from which nails are cut] (Aus./N.Z.)

1. a stick of ‘Two Seas’ tobacco.

[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Drifted Back’ in Roderick (1972) 235: You can give me half-a-pound of nailrod.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘A Bush Publican’s Lament’ in Roderick (1972) 467: ‘Nail-rod’ is ninepence a stick out here, an’ I have ter pay carriage.

2. any dark tobacco.

[UK]E.E. Morris Austral Eng. 313/1: Nailrod, n. a coarse dark tobacco smoked by bushmen. The name alludes to the shape of the plug, which looks like a thin flat stick of liquorice. It is properly applied to the imported brand of ‘Two Seas,’ but is indiscriminately used by up-country folk for any coarse stick of tobacco.

In phrases

eat one’s nails (v.) [ety. unknown]

to do something foolish.

[UK]Swift Polite Conversation 10: You should be cut for the Simples this Morning. Say a Word more, and you had as good as eat your Nails.
give someone a bent nail (v.)

(US) to make an unclear, misleading statement.

[US]B. Schulberg On the Waterfront (1964) 258: There was no use giving Johnny Friendly any bent nails for answers.
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]

(Ulster/Scot.) to become confused or flustered.

J. Kelly Collection of Scot. Proverbs 173: He is gone off at the Nail. Taken from Scissors when the sides go asunder, means that he is gone out of all bounds of Reason.
J. Elphinston Propriety Ascertained II 119: But I dread he’l gae af at the nail wih hemsal: I wos he mayna saw aw staps, or gang a gray gat.
[UK]J. Galt Sir Andrew Wylie II 135: I see ye’re terrified, and think I’m going off at the nail.
W. Beatty Secretar xlix: That woman’s aff at the nail.
J.J. Bell Wee Macgreegor ii: Ye’re fair aff at the nail the day!
M. Traynor Eng. Dial. Donegal 193: To go off at the nail, to become flustered, confused.
[Ire]Share Slanguage.
off the nail (adj.) [phr. go off at the nail, to behave strangely]

tipsy, slightly drunk.

[UK]Steamboat 300: When I went up again intil the bedroom, I was what you would call a thought off the nail; by the which my sleep wasna just what it should have been [F&H].