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What does a long pinky fingernail mean?
October 1, 2009 7:16 PM   Subscribe

When I was in college, I had a wild friend with a long pinky fingernail (and only her pinky, and only on one hand). I asked her about it once, and she gave me a "knowing look" and laughed it off. But I don't know what it was for, and fearing I'd look stupid, I never asked her again.

Possibly relevant: she told me (in another conversation) that before we met, she was addicted to speed. I don't know if she really recovered from that, but she was definitely an alcoholic when I knew her. Once I was at her house and someone was passing around a bag? jar? (can't remember) of something. Most people partook of whatever-it-was. (Bonus question: what would that have been?)

She was bisexual and was dating a woman when I noticed the fingernail. The only reason I mention this is in case it's a fetish or lesbian thing (though I've been around plenty of both and have never seen it).

This is in Montana, late 90s.
posted by desjardins to Grab Bag (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Coke, or maybe some other kind of snort.
posted by box at 7:17 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


coke.
posted by violetk at 7:17 PM on October 1, 2009


Coke nail!
posted by sugarfish at 7:18 PM on October 1, 2009


coke nail
posted by nadawi at 7:19 PM on October 1, 2009


I knew a few people who grew a long nail (usually index) to held hold a roach for smoking pot.
posted by sycophant at 7:19 PM on October 1, 2009


Coke or whatever, though that sort of thing was fashionable when I was in high school among people who didn't do coke at all but (I guess?) liked to look like maybe they did coke. So this fits in with the "knowing look" part too. Urban dictionary: coke nail.
posted by jessamyn at 7:19 PM on October 1, 2009


OK, so excuse my extreme ignorance, but what do you DO with the nail? In movies, they always show the user lining it up with a razorblade on a mirror and snorting it. A fingernail seems really inefficient for lining it up.
posted by desjardins at 7:19 PM on October 1, 2009


OK, got it.
posted by desjardins at 7:20 PM on October 1, 2009


You probably figured this, desjardins, but the pinky is usually used not for cutting lines, but for dipping into the little baggie or foil or cigarette plastic or whatever.
posted by box at 7:25 PM on October 1, 2009


It's what people who have never snorted cocaine grow to make it look like they're the sort of person who snorts so much cocaine that they've actually had to develop a part of their body to enable them to do it more efficiently. Chances are she also sniffed/rubbed her nose a lot.

See also: the sort of person who sits around at parties with a real sleepy look on their face, licking their lips - they want you to think they've been shooting heroin all afternoon because they saw it on Requiem For A Dream.

Ever met a proper cokehead? They are fucking annoying. So unless this friend of yours was fucking annoying there's a good chance she wasn't the massive coke fiend she liked to pretend she was. Though having a long pinky nail does go a fair way towards indicating to me, at least, that a person is fucking annoying.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:27 PM on October 1, 2009 [25 favorites]


Martha Stewart asks the same question
posted by avocet at 7:28 PM on October 1, 2009


I use mine for digging in my ear. YANMD.
posted by thebrokedown at 7:30 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


So unless this friend of yours was fucking annoying there's a good chance she wasn't the massive coke fiend she liked to pretend she was.

erm, I think she actually was. In her defense, she did let me live at her house for a few weeks while I was effectively homeless. In winter. In Montana.
posted by desjardins at 7:31 PM on October 1, 2009


I had an uncle who grew both his pinkie and his thumbnail long on his left hand. He did all sorts of neat tricks: opening letters, cutting binding twine, stripping insulation from small wires, sitting large unruly men politely into their seats with one hand... oh, and snorting coke.
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 7:34 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Can I expand the question and ask why do so many very straight-laced looking Asian men also have the same long pinky nail, but on both hands? I knew about the Coke Nail phenom, but had always wondered about the Asain guy thing.
posted by lottie at 7:35 PM on October 1, 2009


Lots of coke nails among the party girls of the Midwest in the 80's for me. I think they were trying to emulate big-city chic.
posted by rokusan at 7:35 PM on October 1, 2009


Well, and long nails are kind of a luxury item generally, in that they indicate both a period of prolonged wellness and some distance from certain kinds of manual labor.
posted by box at 7:41 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


In Japan it's "fashionable" for some men to have one long pinky fingernail. Japanese women all find it extremely gross.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:42 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Box has the historical reason for long nails in general, yup.

Two more memories from high school this dredged up for me:

(1) Two girls didn't have a nail, they had a tiny spoon necklace instead. When asked about it by a teacher, I once heard one respond "it's for tiny soup!"

(2) The girls who got more sniggers in the hallway weren't the coke-nail cheerleaders, they were the ones who had all long nails except for a single index finger that was neatly cropped.

(Because then you knew what their boyfriends were into. This was funny.)
posted by rokusan at 7:50 PM on October 1, 2009 [9 favorites]


I read that in Africa some people keep their pinky nails long as a kind of protest against menial labor. Was she possibly PBK?
posted by parmanparman at 8:58 PM on October 1, 2009


I had a roommate with the long pinky nail who I know didn't snort coke (at the time -- I'm pretty sure he did it in his younger days, but he's in pretty poor health now), and also painted it a green color. When I asked him why, he gave me a very vague answer about it being something superstitious or ritualistic. Is there another origin of the long pinky nail, or was he bullshitting me?
posted by runaway ballista at 9:01 PM on October 1, 2009


Can I expand the question and ask why do so many very straight-laced looking Asian men also have the same long pinky nail, but on both hands? I knew about the Coke Nail phenom, but had always wondered about the Asain guy thing.

In (some segments of) Asian culture, it's considered lucky or something to have your pinky be as long as or longer than the first knuckle of your fourth finger. So if it isn't, you grow the nail.

At least, that's the explanation I got from my great-uncles. They may have been BSing child-me.
posted by Xany at 9:15 PM on October 1, 2009


In my uncle's case, the long pinky nail is for picking his nose. Ew.
posted by vespertine at 9:21 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


The explanation I've heard (from a Canadian who lived in China for several years) for the long pinky nail on Chinese men was that it was for scratching their ear / etc.
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:33 PM on October 1, 2009


I read that in Africa some people keep their pinky nails long as a kind of protest against menial labor.

I've seen the same thing. In one restaurant, I worked with a guy from Cambodia, a guy from Vietnam, and a guy from San Salvador, all with long pinky nails (actually the lone Latino had long delicate nails on all his fingers). They all claimed that delicate fingernail represented a symbol living a lifestyle better than manual labor. I'm a ferocious nailbiter, so I bet I looked uncouth to them.

For Montana in the late 90's, I think it was either the use of cocaine or some kind of junkie fetishism.
posted by peeedro at 9:54 PM on October 1, 2009


I know it's most commonly referred to as a coke nail, but you could use it for a wide variety of snortable substances. Knowing that she used to be addicted to speed seems like a pretty big clue to me.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 10:23 PM on October 1, 2009


I had a long pinky nail back in high school and my friend made some sort of joke that I didn't get, and I didn't realize what it meant either until a while later I saw someone mime drug use in a rap video.

I'm about to cut mine tonight, but I've currently got pinky nails around 1" and 3/4" long. They just grow and stay long (though all but one of my nails are currently long), but it gets in the way of my typing at this point.

0xFCAF is kind of onto what I find mine useful for though.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:47 PM on October 1, 2009


I read that in Africa some people keep their pinky nails long as a kind of protest against menial labor.

I live in Kenya and I've worked in roughly a dozen countries in Africa this year alone, and I see this *all* the fucking time. Seriously. Doesn't matter if its a package delivery guy or a national director for one of our offices. Often they are obnoxiously long. Its kinda weird.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:56 PM on October 1, 2009


Mostly the long little fingernails I've seen have been on Polynesian taxi drivers - who use a nice, long hardened nail to jab at the eye of troublemakers.
posted by rodgerd at 12:54 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, for the Asian men thing - it's supposed to be for picking for picking their ears/nose. Which also somehow evolved into a sort of status symbol (sometimes) for looking all cool and gangster-y and whatnot. Sort of like spitting - a sort of "cool" bad hygiene thing.
posted by aielen at 1:25 AM on October 2, 2009


As an historical alternative, in Victorian England a certain class of thieves would apparently grow one nail out. When making a quick copy of a key, they would press the key in wax, then pull the key out with the fingernail.

Mind you, I'm remembering this from a Michael Chrichton book I read in middle school, so take it with a grain of salt.

So maybe she was a cat burglar on the side.
posted by shemko at 4:58 AM on October 2, 2009


In China (I don't know about countries in Africa or Japan), ear cleaning can be something of a obsession at most compared to what we are used to in the States. You can buy special ear picks that help to enable this, or see your favorite street corner ear wax cleaning guy in a town like Chengdu. I had forgotten about this interesting tidbit of Chinese culture until we were researching race and transracial adoption...teaching Caucasian parents (who have softer ear wax) how to clean the ears of their Asian child (prone to brittle ear wax) is something you stumble across on Adoption Forums.

I think this is one of the weirder things I've ever posted to an AskMefi question.
posted by jeanmari at 4:59 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Heh. I used to have a long pinky, but only because my pinky got less beat up and ripped than the rest of my hands in daily use.

So, I totally looked like a coke fiend!
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:49 AM on October 2, 2009


In my uncle's case, the long pinky nail is for picking his nose. Ew.
My dad, too. Pretty sure he wasn't a coke-head, though we all, I suppose, have our secrets.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:54 AM on October 2, 2009


Um, so my mom always told me that the long nails that at least some men had were to "open" their brides. As in those countries where they close up woman down there until the wedding night for "purity" reasons. I really did think that was what it was for until reading this thread, which prompted me to Google what my mom told me and I cant find anything substantiating her claim. So now I feel silly looking at the foreign guys with long nails and feeling squigged out for so many years. I feel kinda dumb, thanks mom.
posted by Jenny is Crafty at 7:06 AM on October 2, 2009


In John Steinbeck's "The Wayward Bus", the driver copies another (cool) driver's habit of growing a long fingernail. The imitator keeps his long nail fortified with clear polish so it won't break. I can't remember if the reason for this fashion fetish is ever mentioned or if it's just "one of those things".
posted by Allee Katze at 7:49 AM on October 2, 2009


FYI, I'm positive she's not African or Asian or male. (OK, so there were some rumors on that last one.) I'll stick with drug user.
posted by desjardins at 8:07 AM on October 2, 2009


This kinda reminds me of the time I worked in a convenience store in the shady part of town and we sold little vials with roses in them (and a lot of throw away lighters). I naively thought that everyone in this tough neighborhood must like little cloth roses 'cause we sold a lot of them.

It wasn't until someone else explained what the vials were for - doing meth I think, I forget now - that I felt really stupid.

I didn't work in that store for very long.
posted by patheral at 8:08 AM on October 2, 2009


Oh lord...when I was a fifth grader in the early 90's, one of our lunchtime monitors was a young (skeevy looking in retrospect) man who was probably in his early 20's. He would always sit at a table with the fifth grade girls (squick!) and openly flirt (double squick!), which of course we played along with because omigodanolderguy! We were all obsessed with his long pinky nails because they were *pretty* and we were just getting into nailpolish. I completely forgot about that sketchiness until this thread.

I hope I'm not repressing some memories, otherwise I think we may have dodged a pedophile bullet.

And yeah, coke nail.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 8:24 AM on October 2, 2009


Can I expand the question and ask why do so many very straight-laced looking Asian men also have the same long pinky nail, but on both hands? I knew about the Coke Nail phenom, but had always wondered about the Asain guy thing.

Not sure what you mean by 'Asian' (I take it to mean 'of Indian/Pakistani origin' rather than 'Oriental origin'). Anyhoo - my Sitar teacher who is ethnically Indian has long pinkie fingernails on both hands, which he uses to play some awesome stuff on the Sitar. He can strum and pluck with his pinkie nail at the same time :)
posted by cardamine at 1:07 PM on October 2, 2009


When I was a baby, apparently my mother kept the nail on one pinky finger long so she could clean out my nose when I had a cold and was all baby-snotty.

I can't believe I'm actually going to hit "post comment" on this...
posted by Lexica at 8:39 PM on October 5, 2009


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