Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Tooth And Nail

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 29, 2010

Back in June 1960, Tooth And Nail showed impressive prospects for the $125,000 Belmont Stakes when he scored an eight-length victory in the New Rochelle Purse at Belmont Park.  That’s what the Hartford Courant newspaper reported.

Several years before race horses were named such things as “Tooth and Nail” Longs Peak Valley became home for Enos Abijah Mills who settled there in 1884 and lived there until his death in 1922.  He was the founder of Rocky Mountain National Park and kept year-round vigil on the ponds and beavers nearby.  In a book he wrote in 1913, entitled “Beaver World” Enoch Mills wrote about beavers, stating that:

“He works not only tooth and nail, but tooth and tail.”

However, over a century before that, Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford wrote a letter to Sir Horace Mann, Britannic Majesty’s Resident at the Court of Florence (1760 to 1785) on July 31, 1767 in which he recounted:

“The very day on which I wrote to you last was critical.  A meeting of the two factions was held at Newcastle House, where the Duke of Bedford was agent for the Frenvilles; and the old wretch himself laboured tooth and nail, that is, with the one of each sort that he has left, to cement, or rather, to make over his friends to the same influence.”

Figurative use of the expression in England goes back as early as the beginning of the 16th century, but in the end, the phrase goes back another 15 centuries to modern day Turkey.

There, Assyrian rhetorician and satirist Lucian of Samosata (125 to 180) wrote the “Dialogues of the Dead” and in Chapter XI, readers will find this passage:

Diogenes:
Of course; they had no receptacle for such things as we could give; luxury had made them so leaky–as full of holes as a worn-out purse. Put wisdom, frankness, or truth into them, and it would have dropped out; the bottom of the bag would have let them through, like the perforated cask into which those poor Danaids are always pouring. Gold, on the other hand, they could guard with tooth and nail or any other way.

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