Stock phrase of the City Mouse, Fallen Princess, Rich Bitch, Alpha Bitch or, more stereotypically, the token woman. Sometimes used by the Action Girl after a particularly grueling fight in which this is the only injury she is concerned about. In any case, the character is Always Female unless it's a deliberate play on the trope. The phrase is, of course, used to show off how petty or vain she is, especially if it's used in the face of more pressing concerns. It may also be a Berserk Button for her.
This is mostly a Discredited Trope nowadays. Most Writers Are Male, with short-clipped nails that rarely if ever get broken. As a result, it took a long time for women to get across that broken nails hurt, and that is usually why they're crying. When nails break, they tend to take a bit of skin with them... a bit of skin that has a cluster of nerves within. Then there's bleeding and the risk of infection so while it's not life-threatening, it's still a legit nuisance. Nowadays, it's used more as a joke than anything. Often an Action Girl will punch a Mook pretty hard, and as he hits the ground, she'll jokingly whine, "Damn, I broke a nail (in the sense of "you ruined my manicure"), now you have to pay."
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Anime & Manga
Pet Shop of Horrors: Count D, a male, breaks a nail once. He proceeds to bandage his whole hand.
Ludwig Revolution doubly subverts this: The title character, Prince Ludwig (obviously male), who is always pictured to pay a lot of attention to his looks and is directly said to be incredibly vain, breaks his nail while shooting at a monster (his love interest) in order to save his male servant. The servant starts screaming: "Prince, you broke your finger nail! It's bleeding!" To which the Prince replies: "Who cares about one or two nails..."
In Cowboy Bebop, Faye, expecting a fight, once pulls on a pair of gloves specifically to avert this trope.
Kara: I've been chased, shot at, kidnapped, beaten up, had my mind controlled and I broke a nail.
She's a Kryptonian under a yellow sun. Her fingernails should be practically indestructible, so some impressive forces were at work there, and that's very possibly the only actual injury she took in that whole ordeal.
Films — Live Action
Early in the 1940 film My Little Chickadee, Mae West's character, Flower Belle, calmly and cooly forces a tribe of Indians who are attacking her train to retreat with a few sharp shots from revolversakimbo and a shotgun. Her response to a well-deserved congratulations?
Willie Scott uses this line twice in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The first time she only "cracked" a nail, rather than actually breaking it, but that was still apparently a good enough excuse for her to practically throw Indy's gun out the side of the car.
This is done to a lesser extent in the movie Lost in Space where Dr. Smith attempts to smuggle himself on board the Jupiter Two in a crate. The crane abruptly stops, causing him to fall over and immediately afterwards he glances at his nails and makes an annoyed little sound.
In the action movie/porn film Barb Wire, after having a hand to hand to guns to stiletto heels to groin fight and killing a whole crapload of men, Barb Wire (played by Pamela Anderson) looks at her hand, on which is a broken nail:
Erin Brockovich: "Goddamnit!" — Erin shortly after breaking her nail getting into the car, and shortly before getting T-boned.
Batman Returns: (Batman vs Catwoman) When Batman pushes Catwoman off him, she ends up in a pile of broken plant pots. Batman removes the sharp metal nail from his suit and tosses it at her. Catwoman picks it up and examines her hand back to front and lets out an irritated "Damn..."
In Geronimo Stilton, Secret Agent, Stilton is trying to distract his archrival Sally Ratmousen, but the only thing that works is when he tells her she has a broken pawnail.
Played with in The Mallorean, by David Eddings, when C'nedra and Zakath are riding through Mal Zeth. They encounter a soldier who had been busted down from Corporal to Private for being drunk on duty. Zakath asks C'nedra what he should do (the Alorns have been giving him lessons in how to not be a tyrant), and her reply is "Hang him. Drat, I broke a nail." Her apparent cold-bloodedness shocks Zakath, and then she explains that condemning the man then pardoning him will do more to convince him not to drink anymore than any amount of punishment.
In the fourth Artemis Fowl book, there is a gnome who is so out of shape, he has to lie down if he gets a hangnail. And LEP orders him to try to stop Holly Short. Who is pissed off and just lost her father/mentor/commander and is getting framed for his murder. Safe bet's the gnome winning.
In the Action Prologue of The Takers by Jerry Ahern, Sonia Steiglitz breaks a nail while pursuing a woman who has the MacGuffin they're searching for, and gives a To the Pain description of what she did to the horse that threw her and made her break a nail, notably cutting its tendons so it died of thirst and starvation.
Played with in Lizzie McGuire. In the Breakfast Club episode, Kate refuses to help clean the school cafeteria. Lizzie's animated alter ego sarcastically suggests that she's afraid of breaking a nail. Then the real Kate gives that as an actual reason, forming an Ironic Echo Cut.
In The Facts of Life, Blair punches another girl for insulting Jo. She later says "I broke a nail for you!" as if that were more of a sacrifice than getting in trouble for decking someone in school (which, for Blair, it is).
That's So Raven: Raven has a vision, at a highly inopportune time, of this happening to Chelsea. When it comes true, Chelsea claims, "I don't even care," but Raven's new telepathic friend says, "Yes, you do."
Australian Gladiators: "Ouch! I broke a nail! Gotta stop punching those brick walls."
In an early episode of Saved by the Bell, Lisa Turtle gets frustrated during an interrogation — and breaking a nail makes her frustration even worse.
Also, in another episode, she tells Nikki that she also doesn't want to dissect frogs — but that, instead of sharing Nikki's concern for the welfare of animals, she just doesn't want to ruin her nails. However, she doesn't care that much — that she would risk getting an F.
Gilligan's Island: In a Season 1 episode when a battle of the sexes forces the girls and guys to live on separate sides of the island, the girls are finding doing all the work harder than they expected.
Ginger: I've broken eleven nails today. Mary Anne: Eleven? Ginger: I broke one twice.
At the start of the Stargate SG-1 episode "Urgo", the team set off on an apparently dull mission and Jack comments that "It's all fun and games until someone breaks a nail."
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy uses this when trying to get the attention of Giles, who is preoccupied because he just learned in a prophecy that Buffy will die tonight.
Cordelia has also used this more than once.
Used as a plot point in the season 1 episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, "The Extra Man". The first person to find out the body of the Victim of the Week breaks a nail by stumbling in the dark (and says the trope name), cluing Goren that there was a woman present when he finds the red-polished nail shard.
Myrtle Urkel says this trope after falling down from Eddie's window in a Family Matters episode.
Myrtle Urkel: Oh, shoot. I broke a nail.
Life With Boys: A friend of Tess was worried that, being on the wrestling team, Tess could suffer cuts, break bones, or a nail.
Similarly, a contestant split her fingernail on Survivor... but with a machete.
Naturally Sadie: Sadie says in "Advanced Girl lessons" when she is attempting to become more feminine. Played With when she then admits that she has no idea what she is supposed to do about it.
Beetle Bailey: This turns out to be the reason Sgt. Louise Lugg mauled a guy so badly while playing American football. The trope is played straight (it's not a very recent strip) and she's shown "emotionally" crying over it; the comic in general repeatedly plays with her combination of masculine aggressiveness and feminine sensitivity.
In the old PC game Battle Chess, the Queen says this during her tutorial after defeating another piece.
In Metal Gear Solid 3 EVA's medical history shows a long list of cuts, blows, gunshot wounds, and one broken nail.
The aerial racing game Slipstream 5000 featured a British racer named Victoria, who when her ship was shot would say, over the racewide frequency, "Oh, I broke a nail."
The Witch class from Yggdra Union will occasionally say this after taking damage.
Renee from Mana Khemia refuses to help Tony fight Flay at the beginning of the game because she just had her nails done, and she doesn't want to ruin them.
In a Tiny Toon Adventures take on "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", where the Bear family lives in an ultra-modernized home, Mama Bear has a gadget (similar to an electric pencil sharpener) that instantly repairs a nail after breaking it while cooking "homemade" porridge in the microwave.
Earthworm Jim features an opposite-personality counterpart of Princess Whatshername who used the line. Her creator then laments that making an opposite of the resident Action Girl was not the brightest idea he has had.
A fight against Comrade Red in an episode of Justice Friends causes She-Thing to break a nail. Krunk's desperate attempts to calm her down make her even madder, and she subsequently goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, smashing everything in her line of sight.
The Alpha Bitch from Beverly Hills Teens falls down a balcony and shouts: "It's broken! It's broken! My nail!" Later we learn that she also broke her leg...
In an earlier episode, she herself shoved a girl, who went down shouting "I think you broke it". Another girl asks if she broke her finger. The answer is "Worse." Do I need to write her next sentence?
Stacey from American Dragon Jake Long was once seen running scared by Jake and Trixie. Trixie said she'd probably complain about a broken nail. At first, it seemed the trope would be subverted as Stacey mentioned Huntsboys 88 and 89 capturing Spud but then she did complain about her broken nail. When Jake and Trixie went running to help Spud, Stacey thought they would call for someone to repair the broken nail.
The modern "you broke my nail—shit just got real" version happens in an episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks. A gang of bullies dominating the local roller rink has challenged the Seville rodents to a roller-derby race for rink use rights. Chippette Brittany scoffs at the immaturity the boys are all showing... until guess what one of the bullies accidentally does.
In Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse, Raquelle panics over the fact that she got locked inside the Dreamhouse, and chipped "one of [her] color-change nails" while struggling to open the door.
In Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers in "Risky Beesness" episode when the queen bee and Zipper force their way out of a saxophone she complains: "Damn, I think I broke a nail." Her hair got messed too. Yes, she's a Fallen PrincessRich Bitch and she's just started to redeem herself.