for want of a nail


Also found in: Wikipedia.

for want of a nail

Due to a minor inconvenience or mishap, (something much worse has happened). The full proverb is “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” If only you'd taken your car in for an oil change when you were supposed to, this emergency trip to the mechanic could have been avoided. Ah, for want of a nail.
See also: nail, of, want

For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the man was lost.

Prov. Overlooking small details can have disastrous consequences. (You can quote any of the sentences in this proverb by themselves.) Jill: I don't think we need to check our bicycle tires before we go for our ride. Jane: I disagree. For want of a nail the shoe was lost. Before we began the hike into the mountains, we checked our equipment painstakingly, remembering that for want of a horse the man was lost.
See also: horse, nail, of, shoe, want

for want of a nail

A major catastrophe that can be traced back to a small error. The lack of a basic part or a small object can lead from one unwanted consequence to another larger one to yet another one, as in a stack of falling dominos. The full proverb is “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”
See also: nail, of, want