Why do tough guys chew toothpicks?

Having a tootpick away from the dinner table would be something someone who is uncouth would do. Having a character in a movie with a toothpick in their mouth was a quick and easy way of establishing a character as having no manners and rough around the edges. This then became shorthand for someone who doesn’t care about how others think of him. This willingness to disregard social convention then morphed from low class to bad ass.

Brooklyn, right?

It has to be a toothpick cause it rhymes with Vic.

I thought it was always just a symbol of their mastery of the situation. The other guy is shitting bricks and peeing his pants. But the tough guy is chewing on a toothpick, which is a bored, fidgity thing to do. He’s just so unworried about the action about to happen, he needs something to pass the time, cause he’s bored of that kind of thing.

I always associated it with a shirking of manners and propriety, which could certainly be viewed as a very butch, rough, and masculine thing to do. Any wimpy student of Ms. Manners (such as myself) would avoid using toothpicks in public and if, absolutely necessary to do so, cover his mouth with one hand or excuse himself to a restroom.

Gnawing away on a toothpick is socially crass and, therefore, carries an air of “&%@! what anybody else thinks, I’m my own man.”

I’m not arguing this is the case, it’s just how I always saw it.

It’s because they eat cow pies, like Desperate Dan. Those horns can stick in your gums.

Maybe the most vivid tough-guy-with-toothpick image I’ve seen in movies was in the first act of Hard Boiled. There’s a huge, insanely violent shootout that ranges from a warehouse, through a shopping center, ending up in a baker (if I recall). The cop hero, Tequila (the fact that a Chinese guy in Hong Kong is called Tequila probably tells you that he’s a badass already) has kept a toothpick in his mouth through the whole thing. He gets the drop on a bad guy. They both have flour all over their faces. They freeze in place – closeup on Tequila’s face, which holds as – he spits out his toothpick – bang! blows the guy’s brains out – Tequila’s face is splattered with blood. Damn!

I’m wondering if this isn’t something that a lot of veterans picked up while in the military as something to do when you ran out of smokes or couldn’t smoke. A lot of young men picked up the smoking habit as G.I.'s, but there were times when smoking isn’t [relatively] safe or convenient to do – during physically arduous things, needing both hands, or when there’s an enemy sniper who could spot you by your Ronson or lit cigarette. Then, there’s all the smokers who ended up in the Navy, where smoking may have been discouraged or forbidden around fuels and other combustibles, or in confined spaces like submarines.

Because you can’t look mean drinking Cherry Coke from a straw.

Real men just like the feel of some wood in their mouth.

You do realize how ridiclous they would look using dental floss right?