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8 Jan. “To hit the nail on the head.” When should I use this expression?

The English idiom “to hit the nail on the head” is commonly used not in the construction sector as you may imagine but in fact, to convey the preciseness or success of something.


The expression is used in order to express that something which has been said is exactly right or that something which has been done has been done very precisely and without any mistakes. It can be used to suggest that something has been done very carefully and precisely but can also be used in the case that someone doing something correctly has been a fluke.


The exact origin of this expression is unknown although it can be dated back as far as the year 1438 in The Book of Margery Kempe which reads, “If I hear any more these matters repeated, I shall so smite the nail on the head that it shall shame all her supporters”. In this citation the phrase seems to relate to speaking severely or sternly. The idiom derives from carpentry and relates to the fact that if the nail is missed then the hammer will hit the wood and thus it will be damaged, so it needs to be hit perfectly square on in order to be successful. It is from this idea that to find a perfect solution is “to hit the nail on the head”.


An example from the BBC news website relating to a comment made by Nicolas Sarkozy regarding the Czech Prime Minister demonstrates the use of this idiom in a journalistic context; “Nicolas Sarkozy hit the nail on the head with his assertion.”

Next time someone asks you the meaning of this expression you can now hit the nail on the head and provide the perfect explanation!

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