How did the phrase, “to fight tooth and claw” originate?

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“To fight tooth and claw” originates from an animal’s primal instinct to fight using its body as a weapon. In the most literal sense, “fighting tooth and claw,” or “fighting tooth and nail,” would involve animal instincts such as biting and scratching with claws in order to defend one’s self. When dogs fight, they fight with their mouths open to expose their teeth and use their paws to bat, swat and claw.

In the vernacular, “to fight tooth and claw,” takes on a more generalized meaning. It would be extremely rare to see two people biting and clawing at each other, but the term still has its use in everyday language. “To fight tooth and claw,” typically means that a person is willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve a desired outcome.

This phrase is most likely still in use today as a way to reference basic human emotions and struggles. When put in a difficult or trying situation, humans often regress back to their primal instincts; fight or flight scenarios are situations where a person might choose to fight “tooth and claw.”

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