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I was chatting with a non native speaker and they said "we will connect nails with heads" or something along that line, and asked if that was the right way to say it in English. I knew what he meant: "get things done" but wasn't sure if that was a common thing to say.

So is there a colloquialism involving nails and heads (or hammers) that means to get things done or produce results, and what is the common way of saying it?

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Was he German by any chance? The German "Nägel mit Köpfen machen" (literally "making nails with heads") translates to getting things done. Idiomatic translations include putting one's money where one's mouth is, or going the whole nine yards, all the way, the whole hog. But nothing with nails. The proposed "hitting the nail on the head" and "nailing it" are not nailing it at all, quite the opposite. –  RegDwigнt Jun 2 '12 at 15:26

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

There's the idiom "get down to brass tacks," which doesn't exactly mean "get things done," but it does mean "get down to business; get to the heart of the matter" – which is often the first step in getting things done.

I'm not familiar with the "connect nails with heads" idiom, so I'm not entirely sure if this is close or not.

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Turns out it is a German idiom. "Get down to brass tacks" is probably closer than "nail on the head". –  Jim McKeeth Jun 2 '12 at 16:19

Hit the nail on the head probably is the idiom sought. It means "to do exactly the right thing; to do something in the most effective and efficient way." Of the origin of this idiom, phrases.org.uk says "No one knows the exact origin of this phrase. What is known is that it is extremely old. It appears in The Book of Margery Kempe, circa 1438. ..." A related phrase is nailed it, meaning "to succeed at something, usually by achieving something seemingly difficult with relative ease".

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I had to chuckle at "no one knows the exact origin of this phrase." My father was a carpenter; he came home with some ugly-looking blue thumbnails. While it's interesting to know the etymological origin of a phrase, sometimes it's not too hard to figure out the why, even if the when remains a mystery. –  J.R. Jun 2 '12 at 9:43
    
Yes. Many of the phrases for which fanciful etymythological stories circulate on the net are really perfectly obvious if you just allow speakers or writers in the past the tiniest bit of imagination. –  Colin Fine Jun 2 '12 at 10:50
    
It is an old, old saying. Google books search finds examples of it used in this idiomatic way from the 1600s, including a figurative use of "strike the nail on the head" in the 1622 "A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth." –  JLG Jun 2 '12 at 14:47
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I disagree that definition. To hit the nail on the head doesn't mean to do the right thing. It means to say something which indicates that you've fully understood a situation and have succinctly expressed this. –  FumbleFingers Jun 2 '12 at 15:03

Nägel mit Köpfen machen (literally: to make nails with heads) means to stop pussyfooting around, get down to business and do it right. "Let's make nails with heads" moves the conversation from "talking about" to "committing". Sign the contract. Pull the trigger. Git 'er done. It has nothing to do with the idiom of hitting the nail on the head. And yes, I'm German.

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Answer provided by RegDwight ΒВB as a comment:

Was he German by any chance? The German "Nägel mit Köpfen machen" (literally "making nails with heads") translates to getting things done. Idiomatic translations include putting one's money where one's mouth is, or going the whole nine yards, all the way, the whole hog. But nothing with nails. The proposed "hitting the nail on the head" and "nailing it" are not nailing it at all, quite the opposite.

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He was in fact German, and "making nails with heads" was what he said. I wouldn't have taken it to mean "putting one's money where one's mouth is," but I guess that works too. –  Jim McKeeth Jun 13 '12 at 16:08

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