fingernail

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cling on by (one's) fingernails

To narrowly avoid problems or failure. They're clinging on by their fingernails out there—the other team's offensive is totally overwhelming them. Now that I have three small children to care for, I feel as if I'm clinging on by my fingernails every day.
See also: cling, fingernail, on

cling on/hang on by your fingernails

if you are clinging on by your fingernails, you are only just managing to avoid danger or failure (usually in continuous tenses) We're hanging on by our fingernails and hoping that it rains before we lose our entire crop.
See also: cling, fingernail, on