Biting one’s nails is absolutely normal

Here’s an observation: Using nail clippers to clip one’s nails. Now, I highly doubt that man figured out nail clippers prior to the iron age, but it really does not make sense to use stone to smash one’s own fingers. This allowed me to come to two possible conclusions:

1. Nails naturally wear out under heavy use, so no nail clippers are necessary.

2.  We trim our nails by biting ’em.

Based on how often movies like to portray humans in castaway situations as biting their nails, I suspect it is #2. Therefore, why do we punish nail biters if it’s not disgusting, but rather, normal?


3 Responses to Biting one’s nails is absolutely normal

  1. Dana says:

    Actually, I’ve never bitten my nails, but I used to just rip them off. I hated the sensation of cutting and filing as a child, so I found an alternative method. Incidentally, that is the reason I keep my thumbnails long even though the rest of my fingernails are typically short, because I used the long ones to rip off the others. Sure, I tell people now that I let the thumbnails grow because the thumbs are on the outside of a proper karate fist, but it’s only partly true. I do now cut and file my nails, but I didn’t start until sometime in high school.

    (Hah, this post isn’t nearly as boring as you thought it would be! Congratulations, you’ve inaugurated the blog.)

  2. antoninus says:

    But what about toe nails? I’m certainly not flexible enough to bite them (ew), so maybe they actually fall under the first category – lots of use. I could imagine that they would get broken off pretty easily, particularly if the person were involved daily in obtaining food. But they’d still be dramatically longer than modern humans tend to keep them.

  3. aderksen says:

    Kindly consider that one of the things which make primates a distinct group from other mammals is our possession of nails instead of claws. Selective pressures favoring precision grips over stabbing pitons while climbing and manipulating prey resources may have led to our shift away from tough claws to terminal nails. Of course, as noted above, nails grow in interrupted bursts throughout an organism’s life and occasionally grow “too long” and need trimming. Nails can be considered “too long” when they impair the organism’s manipulative ability. As a tangent, it should be recognized that long nails are recognized in many cultures as a sign of affluence and wealth because they prevent the bearer from doing any sort of useful work with their hands where they might be damaged. Given that many primates trim and clean their nails by biting and chewing them, it can be assumed that this is a sympleisiomorphic trait for the group. Cultures with “stone-age” technologies have been observed to trim their nails by biting them, but also by carefully cutting them with specifically engineered razor-sharp stone flakes. They have also been observed to clean under their nails with thin but sharp-edged sticks. Not all that is “natural” is advantageous. I would hazard a guess that the cultural tradition recommending that one not chew one’s nails stems from the fact that our hands are our primary form of interaction with the world, and as such are often exposed to the sort of unpleasentries that one would not wish to put in one’s mouth. Even after one has washed one’s hands, some horribleness will remain trapped beneath one’s nails. Thus there may be some form of selective benefit associated with the health of an organism who finds alternative means to trim their nails. Once again, well-trimmed nails could also signify a sign of wealth, as the carrier must take the time to trim them properly and possess the appropriate technologies to do so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: