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How to understand and use “nailed it”

The Roman poet Horace, who wrote in Latin, used a phrase that roughly equals our concept of the term “nailed it,” meaning to have done something immaculately.

Cecilia Gigliotti
Cecilia Gigliotti

When you hear someone say “nailed it!” you can usually presume that they mean it in an affirmative manner, referring to something they have accomplished or done successfully. But where does the phrase “nailed it” come from? And how do we use it every day?

Ancient beginnings

The Roman poet Horace, who wrote in Latin, used a phrase that roughly equals our concept of the term “nailed it,” meaning to have done something immaculately. He is not necessarily credited as having coined the phrase, but his wide audience quickly took it up and incorporated it into the vernacular.

As civilizations developed and the range of careers and occupations began to diversify, the phrase took on new meanings in a variety of contexts. Specifically, different professionals thought of the phrase differently depending on the “nail” in question. For a carpenter, “nailed it” might mean that a piece of wooden craftsmanship had all its nails hammered in their proper place; meanwhile, a sculptor knew his work was done when he scraped his fingernail on his material and could be sure it was chiseled to perfection.

Timeless encouragement

By the time of the present day, “nailed it” has come to be associated with extreme precision and accuracy, similar to “hitting the nail on the head.” We link it more closely to the carpenter’s definition of “nail” than to the sculptor’s, but either is valid.

People most frequently direct the phrase at themselves or someone else in response to an act. They might say “I bet you nailed it” after hearing about a difficult test a friend took. Or they might triumphantly exclaim “nailed it!” after completing a road test and being awarded their driver’s license.

Examples of using “nailed it” idiom

The Intern (2015)
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Boyhood (2014)
Idioms & expressionsEnglish

Cecilia Gigliotti

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