Biting Your Nails (Bad Habit #44)

Nail biting is the habit of chewing on one’s fingernails or toenails while nervous, anxious, or bored. Fingernail biting is quite common. Toenail biting, however, is not something you see every day, as it requires a contortionist-like ability possessed by only a few people.

Nails are the horn-like covering on the upper surface of the tip of your fingers and toes and those of other humans and primates. Think of fingernails and toenails as our version of claws, hooves, and talons, all made of keratin protein like that in your skin and hair.

Nails are handy. You can scratch an itch, rip open an orange, untie a knot, and pick your nose if you want. To test the usefulness of your fingernails, cover the ends of your fingers with tape and then try to take a nut from its shell, remove cat hair from your sweater, or pick up a dime. The results will give you new appreciation for that translucent hard covering on the ends of your fingers.

Now back to biting. As a result of what you touch, there are loads of germs crammed up under your fingernails. When you bite them, the germs go directly into your mouth. The idea is that germs make you sick, and it’s best to avoid getting them inside you.

Having been taught as children that it’s a bad habit, generations of parents have simultaneously pestered and begged their children to stop biting their fingernails. The irony is that lots of adults, many of them parents themselves, regularly chomp their own nails right down to the quick.

Have you been thinking about stopping? Ask your friends for assistance. Since you probably don’t even know when you’re chewing your nails, the most helpful thing your friends can do is to bring it to your attention. If this realization and the accompanying peer pressure don’t do the trick, you might want to buy a special colorless nail polish that makes your nails taste really awful. Then, there’s always hypnosis.

Now, to satisfy your hunger for more information, here are some interesting facts to chew on.

A Few Nail Biting Facts

  • The name for chronic nail biting is onychophagia. 
  • Some people consider fingernail biting as the grown-up equivalent of sucking your thumb. 
  • Guitar players sometimes grow long nails and use them as guitar picks. 
  • According to Freud, nail biting is a symptom of oral fixation. 
  • Some people say that chewing off pieces of your nails and the surrounding skin is akin to self-cannibalism. 
  • Lee Redmond, who definitely does not bite her nails, holds the world record for the longest fingernails. Her longest single nail is on her right thumb and measures 2 feet 11 inches.
The Book of Bad Habits for Young (and Not So Young!) Men and Women: How to Chuck the Worst and Turn the Rest to Your Advantage  (Paperback and eBook)