It Was A Real Nail-Biter



A lot of people bite their nails.

Nail biting even has a fancy-pants name: onychophagy. The existence of such a word grants the habit legitimacy. Many people don’t know that cigarette addiction also has a Latin-based word to describe it: marlboroism. Okay, that’s not true. In my defense, it took cigarette companies decades to admit they were lying about cigarettes. By lying, I mean how delicious smoke tastes and how delightful a house smells after everything is coated in a vile sheen of yellowish slime.

It’s more common in kids and teenagers, but a surprising  number of adults are nail-biters. I should know. I’ve written before that I’m one of those ignorant dolts who is guilty of doing it. My fingers sometimes resemble the talons of an angry dragon trapped in the bottom of an inescapable well. I’ve stopped sniffing glue, being comatose by a method of self-chloroforming, and narrowly avoiding the craziness of alcoholism that has ruined the lives of literally all my immediate family. But nail biting? You’ll catch me gnawing on my nails like a starving monkey, sometimes even doing the ‘typewriter,’ a word used to describe going from one nail to the next like a crazed typist after a four-hour coffee break at a Cuban coffee shop.

“1/3 of nail biters say they have a family member who does the same,” say some studies. Which leads to the question, “Why don’t they bite each other’s nails?” It’s no surprise that the tendency to bite your nails might be genetic; that’s true of a lot of disreputable behavior, along with addictions, sneezing when exposed to sunlight, and voting for people with insanity issues. (Although I’m struggling to think of any such people in the last few years. How about you?)

If you cringed, you’re not alone. Nail biting is great for movie visuals or as a cliché, but terrible as a personal habit.

Given the hyper-focus that our unfriendly worldwide pandemic has caused, we’re working to keep our fingers out of our mouths. (Except for politicians, who are exempted, along with their feet.) Before patting yourself on the back, though, if your nails are longer than short, you’ve created a repository for everything bacterial or viral you touch. You might not touch your own face, but you’re marking your territory as you live your life.

Irrelevant note: most men are uninterested in women’s fingernails. The pandemic gives you the right to stop concerning yourself with the time and money invested in decorating your fingernails like they will be featured in Architectural Digest. If it makes you happy, please feel free. If you’re looking for an excuse, you have it.


Some Unhelpful Tips To Stop Biting Your Nails, stolen from websites and headlines:

Amputate the tips of your fingers.

Just don’t think about it.

Dip your fingers in the dung or the blood of your enemies.


According to science, it’s hard to distinguish the line between harmful compulsive nail biting and regular nail biting. A good rule-of-thumb, though: if you find yourself individually flavoring your nails as garlic, lemon, chocolate, pepper, and Parmesan in anticipation of devouring them, you’re probably in need of some therapy.

When I was young, I would get irritated at my mom, who delighted in punching me, slapping me, or putting her cigarette on my arm when she caught me biting my nails. I think the irony of her irritation with me failed to register for her. That I also wet the bed, was beaten like a dirty Victorian rug, or was screamed at for otherwise normal behavior, all those things seemed to overtake biting my nails as important. I forgot to mention that the rampant alcoholism and smoking seemed relevant too. I made the mistake a couple of times by saying, “I’ll stop when you put out the cigarette.” Although you would think she responded sensibly, given the track record I’ve painted of her esteemed and cultured biography, it was more reminiscent of George Foreman’s first loss to Muhammad Ali.

When I was young, I’d find myself biting my nails regardless of what I’d been doing. Disgusting as it was, it probably granted me limited immunity to a variety of illnesses. You’d be horrified to know how true this is. Since you might remember that I loved eating ashes and burned food, maybe it isn’t a shock.

I went through long phases where I conquered my impulse to bite my nails. Heroin helped me for a while. That last part’s a joke. Heroin didn’t help at all. It made me edgy as hell, not to mention unable to afford cocaine.

You’re probably going to doubt this, but I tried the bitter paint-on polish more than once. As bitter and nasty as it was, I liked the taste and aftertaste.

At more than one point, I’d decided I’d need dentures. It’s difficult to bit one’s nails with dentures. (And even harder to do so without.) I was about to buy the inserts you can put on your teeth to make it impossible to chew with my teeth. I don’t remember what stopped me. But it was probably laziness. For people who wear them, they are immensely effective.

Maybe this world-wide pandemic will grant me the motivation to figure out what techniques can help me make this habit a thing of the past. I’m sure there’s a perfect combination of timing, technique, and application. Otherwise, I’m opting for finger amputation. Is finger-stump licking a thing?


Love, X

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