As Plain as the Nose on Your Face
Turn my nose up at something, put my nose out of joint, it's no skin off my nose, it's getting up my nose - it's as plain as the nose on your face that there's a long list of nose related idioms. It's easy to understand why so many idioms involve eyes - after all they are the 'window to our soul', but it's not so clear why the duller, expressionless nose should pop up so often in the English language. Indeed it also appears surprisingly often in literature. Perhaps the most famous 'nose' story is Edmond Rostand's 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac. It's about a brilliant sword fighter and poet of the same name who has an extremely large nose. Although he is a brave man in other ways, he is too shy to tell the woman he loves how he feels. Instead he writes love letters on behalf of another man who falls in love with her. Throughout the play, we see how Cyrano is the perfect man, but also how people just cannot see past his nose.
In 1959, movie director Hiroshi Inagaki adapted Cyrano into Aru kengo no shogai. This time the main character is a samurai played by Toshiro Mifune, but it is essentially the same story. And Steve Martin did the same for Hollywood with the movie Roxanne, in which he plays the hero, a fire chief with a giant nose who not only tackles fires but pens romantic verse. The simple message from the play and the movies is the size of someone's nose is unimportant!
Let's take a closer look at some of the idioms that feature the nose. The one that always makes me laugh is 'keep your nose to the grindstone.'
always makes me laugh is 'keep your nose to the grindstone.'
MEANING: to work hard
EXAMPLE: 'Keep your nose to the grindstone and you'll finish that report by the end of week.'
DERIVATION: This expression has been around since the 1500s. At that time, knives were sharpened with a grindstone -- a revolving stone powered by a foot pedal. The operator would lean over the stone and press his full weight on the blade. The harder he worked to sharpen the dull sword or knife, the closer his nose got to the stone itself.
Another good example of an everyday nose idiom that I find myself using more and more these days is 'pay through the nose.'
MEANING: to pay too high a price for something
EXAMPLE: 'This car has given me a lot of problems. I've had to pay through the nose to have it repaired several times.'
DERIVATION: This one comes to us through the mists of time. It's been suggested that it dates all the way back to 7th century England, when the Danes took over England and introduced lots of taxes to show people who was in charge. One new tax was called the 'nose tax.' It was so called because if a man failed to pay it, he would have his nose cut as a punishment. But that's only a theory and to be honest no one is really sure where the expression really comes from.
Here are some more nose idioms presented in the form of a quick quiz (answers at the end).
1. * My girlfriend turned her nose up at the white carnations I bought her. She says _____.
a) they have the most wonderful scent
b) she will put them in a very tall vase
c) they were old and past their best
2. * When dad was looking for his glasses, I told him they were under his nose. He found them ______.
a) in the kitchen next to the spices
b) on the table in front of him
c) under his bed on the carpet
3. * Watch out! We lost an important customer and the boss's nose is out of joint. She's ________.
a) in a bad mood and shouting at everyone
b) at the doctor's clinic having her nose looked after
c) being praised by the president
4. * The new guy in the office is getting up my nose - he ________ .
a) is learning fast and works hard
b) works at the desk facing me
c) talks very loudly on the telephone
5. * The soccer manager wants more goals. I told him that the answer is as plain as the nose on your face. Our team needs _______.
a) a faster, younger striker
b) a neater, more colorful team uniform
c) a faster, larger team bus
6. * My neighbor is very nosey. He often ______.
a) turns the music up very loud
b) asks me very personal questions
c) has a very bad cold
7. * It's no skin off my nose if the picnic is cancelled tomorrow afternoon as ______ .
a) the organizer has very smelly shoes and socks
b) I have tickets to a baseball game in the afternoon
c) I have prepared a lot of special dishes for my friends
8. * The restaurant bill came to $200 on the nose and the four friends ______.
a) paid $50 each
b) paid just over $60 each
c) split the bill and paid $100 each
You can see from this short quiz that the nose is firmly in forefront of the language - which reminds me of an old joke: -- "Why is your nose in the middle of your face?" "Because it's the scenter." And yes, the nose is in the center of the language, so even if learning idioms gets up your nose, you really should put your nose to the grindstone and master a few of these wonderful 'nose' idioms.
answers to short quiz: 1. c, 2. b, 3. a, 4. c, 5. a, 6. b, 7. b, 8. a,