Judith Ann Moriarty
Onychophagia

Confessions of a nail biter

By - Sep 5th, 2010 04:00 am
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This is the confession of a nail biter — me. By the time my dad returned from four dreadful years serving in WWII, I was quite accomplished. My ten nails soon became the focus of his attention.

My dad’s hands, proud tools used in his medical profession, were always immaculate. He scrubbed them frequently with grey, gritty Lava (more than frequently), and we Moriarty kids were expected to fall in line. My hands were indeed squeaky clean, but my nails remained raggedy.  None of my three sibs bit their nails. Why was I the neurotic one?

There’s a genuine medical term for this neuroses — “onychophagia” — a term rooted in the Greek “onycho” (fingernail or toenail), and “phagia,”(to eat or consume). However, it is mighty hard to envision being addicted to biting one’s toenails, but someone out there may be chewing on their little toe even as I write.

And so it was that my parents fell for “Thumbz It,” a liquid meant to be applied to the offending finger or fingers (in my case it was fingers). I was smart enough to wash off the bitter stuff and get on with the task at hand, no pun intended. Next they tried forcing me to wear gloves, but I loved gloves. So feminine (Betty Grable wore elbow-length white ones) and easy to remove so I could get back to nail biting, and if dad walked into the room (I could always hear his approaching footsteps), they were a snap to slip into.

Nowadays, shelves are lined with an array of products with names like “Stop,” “Bite Ender” and “No Bite.” Plus, I saw a set of ten rubber finger thimbles, which weren’t around back in the day. Whatever, kids today who chew their nails are up against an arsenal of weapons. Nail biters are like squirrels. You can hardly ever beat them down.

As a last ditch attempt, dad resorted to demonstrating how revolting my habit had become. His method of choice? We two would undergo daily sessions focused on each of us biting our nails. Face-to-face in straight-back chairs, we bit in tandem, though it must have been a huge sacrifice for dad. That said, I’m not positive he actually bit off any of his nails. Maybe he faked it. I kept on chewing

Around grade six, I started noticing the nails of my classmates, and well, it occurred to me that perhaps nail biting was something I no longer needed. A pretty ring didn’t look pretty on fingers bitten raw. All the bitter stuff on my fingers, all the gloves in the world, all the silly nail biting sessions with father; they all faded fast. No movie star worth a close-up was a nail biter, and the movie magazines I read were packed with images of lovely hands and polished nails. No way did Cinderella didn’t chew on ten, nor did Snow White or blah, blah, blah.

Soon, I kicked the habit in the name of glamour. Cold turkey.

As I sit at my computer clicking out text, my nails (genuine) are freshly polished in a hue titled “Toscano Spice.” The hands my ten digits are attached to have seen far better days and are signifiers of my lengthy life. See here, this big long scar between my left thumb and pointer finger. It’s still visible. But I don’t bite my nails.

My left hand is possibly cursed, for the day before my 1956 wedding, I sliced off the tip of my left thumb while working at a monster “Address-O-Graph” machine in Kansas City. The idea of the machine was to stamp metal plates with various addresses, and my thumb was where it shouldn’t have been when the clanging monster smashed my beautiful thumb. These were the days before strict safety regulations, and in all fairness to the hysterical office staff, they did mount a search for my missing hunk of thumb…to no avail.

I wore a bandage to my wedding. The nail on the battered thumb eventually turned purple and fell off, then healed and returned in glory. My nails have lasted way longer than my blasted marriage, though I’m not sure what that means.

0 thoughts on “Onychophagia: Confessions of a nail biter”

  1. Anonymous says:

    How oddly appropriate that the Address-O-Graph nipped a chunk out of the thumb of a former nail biter. From their beginnings, machines have, indeed, been sentient!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have tried all the ways in your article to stop my nail biting, I have to say it worked for about 12 days. I then started to chew my skin around my nails. Now? I chew both; my nails and skin. Im going to try it again though! Im not giving up! Thanks!! 🙂

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