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nose / nōz/ • n. 1. the part projecting above the mouth on the face of a person or animal, containing the nostrils and used for breathing and smelling. ∎  [in sing.] the sense of smell, esp. a dog's ability to track something by its scent: a dog with a keen nose. ∎  [in sing.] fig. an instinctive talent for detecting something: he has a nose for a good script. ∎  the aroma of a particular substance, esp. wine. 2. the front end of an aircraft, car, or other vehicle. ∎  a projecting part of something: the nose of the saddle. 3. [in sing.] a look, esp. out of curiosity: she wanted a good nose around the house. ∎ inf. a police informer. • v. 1. [intr.] (of an animal) thrust its nose against or into something, esp. in order to smell it: the pony nosed at the straw. ∎  [tr.] smell or sniff (something). 2. [intr.] investigate or pry into something: I was anxious to get inside and nose around her house | she's always nosing into my business. ∎  [tr.] detect in such a way. 3. [intr.] (of a vehicle or its driver) make one's way cautiously forward: he turned left and nosed into an empty parking space. ∎  (of a competitor) manage to achieve a winning or leading position, esp. by a small margin: they nosed ahead by one point. PHRASES: by a nose (of a victory) by a very narrow margin. count noses count people, typically in order to determine the numbers in a vote. cut off one's nose to spite one's face hurt oneself in the course of trying to hurt another. give someone a bloody nose inflict a resounding defeat on someone. have one's nose in a book be reading studiously or intently. keep one's nose clean inf. stay out of trouble. keep one's nose out of refrain from interfering in (someone else's affairs). keep one's nose to the grindstone see grindstone. nose to tail (of vehicles) moving or standing close behind one another, esp. in heavy traffic. not see further than one's (or the end of one's) nose be unwilling or fail to consider different possibilities or to foresee the consequences of one's actions. on the nose 1. to a person's sense of smell: the wine is pungently smoky and peppery on the nose. 2. inf. precisely: at ten on the nose the van pulled up. 3. inf. (of betting) on a horse to win (as opposed to being placed). put someone's nose out of joint inf. upset or annoy someone. speak through one's nose pronounce words with a nasal twang. turn one's nose up at something inf. show distaste or contempt for something: he turned his nose up at the job. under someone's nose inf. directly in front of someone: he thrust the paper under the inspector's nose. ∎  (of an action) committed openly and boldly, but without someone noticing or noticing in time to prevent it. with one's nose in the air haughtily: she walked past the cars with her nose in the air.DERIVATIVES: nosed adj. [in comb.] snub-nosed. nose·less adj. ORIGIN: Old English nosu; related to Dutch neus, and more remotely to German Nase, Latin nasus, and Sanskrit nāsā; also to ness.

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nose The nose is at the centre of attention when we examine the face. One can read the culture of the nose and its central place in the study of physiognomy. One can stress that the face is the part of the modern body (along with the hands) which is uncovered, unveiled, and therefore available for analysis. A society in which all of its members wore masks could stress the imagined nose, much as Western society stresses the imagined breast or buttock. The West ‘sees’ the nose: it is ‘real’ and therefore immediate and concrete, and the more it becomes a place for fantasy the more real it seems.

Noses are loaded with multiple layers of meaning. As Charles Darwin noted in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex: ‘As the face with us is chiefly admired for its beauty, so with savages it is the chief seat of mutilation’. This focus on the beautiful face is understood by Darwin as a quality of the modern world. Noses define civilization. Oswald Spengler, writing in his study of The Decline of the West in 1918, called this fascination a sign of the triumph of the ‘science’ of physiognomy and the movement toward a ‘single uniform overarching physiognomy of all human beings’. The face and the sciences which contribute to its reading are given specific priority as signs of the modern.

The history of the nose is written as part of the history of the face. And we have a long tradition in the West of giving meaning to the face and its parts. One could say that the nose defines the human face. It is central to the face. The face, in terms of the psychology of perception, is not a face without a nose. In the first modern history of plastic surgery (1838), Eduard Zeis commented that ‘The eye is so used to seeing a nose on a human face, that even an ugly one is preferable to one that is partly or completely missing …’ It is of little wonder that the classic image of the ‘death's head’ is one without a nose. Historically, anxiety about the loss of the nose is tied to stigmatizing diseases — leprosy and syphilis. The syphilis epidemic of the sixteenth century makes the ‘lost’ nose a sign of moral decay. In another context, the focus on Black slavery and the condition of the Black in the Enlightenment, associates the form of the Black's nose with defences of slavery; it becomes a sign of the ‘primitive’. The Dutch eighteenth-century anatomist Petrus Camper presents criteria for the beautiful face in his study. Indeed, he defines the ‘beautiful face’ as one in which the facial line creates an angle of 100 degrees to the horizontal. According to the contemporary reading of Camper the African is the least beautiful — and therefore the least erotic.

The too-long nose comes to be read as a physical sign for the identification of the Jews as essentially different from all others in the modern state. George Jabet, writing as Eden Warwick, in his Notes on Noses (1848) characterized the ‘Jewish, or Hawknose’, as ‘very convex, and preserves its convexity like a bow, throughout the whole length from the eyes to the tip. It is thin and sharp.’ Shape also carried here a specific meaning: ‘It indicates considerable Shrewdness in worldly matters; a deep insight into character, and facility of turning that insight to profitable account.’ Noses become a sign of character, both good character and bad character. But they are always a sign of immutable character. All of these ideas of the nose exist simultaneously; it was only a question of emphasis and priorities — by a nose.

In functional terms, the nose is the route whereby aromas reach the nerve cells — in the upper part of its lining — whose fibres enter the brain through perforations at the base of the skull, and serve the sense of smell. The broader associations of this function are embedded in the language — to have a nose for something, to nose it out, or simply to be ‘nosey’, imply the ancient fundamental link in the animal kingdom between smell and appraisal of the outside world.

The nose is also the channel for quiet breathing. The nostrils have a greater resistance to airflow than any other part of the route into the lungs, contributing to the optimal mechanical balance which makes quiet breathing a negligible effort. (When we are pushed into breathing vigorously, the flow is diverted to the wider mouth.) The other highly effective function of the nose is as an air conditioner — a heat and moisture exchanger. Air enters dryer and cooler (usually) than the inside of the body. The moist and blood-warmed surface formed by the mucous membrane lining is much larger than the outside of the nose, because it is folded around three thin, curved sheets of bone (conchae) that project into the cavity on each side, as well as covering both sides of the central septum. In passing through this maze, the air is warmed and moistened — conditioned to do no damage to the lungs. Then, on its way back out, now saturated with water vapour and at body temperature, the air does not escape in that state; the membrane that it had cooled and dried automatically retrieves much of the heat and water. Thus in cold conditions, when heat and water conservation can be of major importance, the nose is a crucial protective tool. The normally beneficial divisions and restrictions of space within the nose are all too apparent when the lining is swollen by inflammation with the common cold, and obstructs the flow of air. Opening into the nose are conduits from the sinuses within the skull bones; also the ducts that drain the continuous eye-moistening secretions from the lachrymal glands, preventing overflow as tears, unless overloaded by the excesses of weeping. At the back in the nasopharynx the cavity of the nose communicates with the cavity of the middle ears through the eustachian tubes. This enables the equalization of pressure between the ears and the outside air via the nose, assisted by swallowing or by blowing against closed nostrils when external pressure alters, as in a descending aircraft.

Sander L. Gilman, and Sheila Jennett


Holden, H. M. (1950). Noses. World Publishing Co., Cleveland.
Romm, S. (1986). Noses by design. National Museum of American History, Washington, DC.

See respiratory system.See also physiognomy; taste and smell.
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The nose has signified sexuality, sexual appetite, and sexual character in many cultures throughout history. The Roman poet Ovid (43 bce–c. 18 ce) associated a large nose with a large penis, and Renaissance playwright and poet Philip Massinger (1583–1640) used nose length in a woman as a measure of feminine ardor. Certainly, nose length has played a part in sexual selection and beauty standards; the philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) famously remarked that if Egyptian queen Cleopatra's (69 bce–30 bce) nose had been a little larger—and thus, one supposes, a little less beautiful—the history of the world may have been quite different. Early sex researchers such as Havelock Ellis noted a pronounced interest in smell among many peoples of the earth, which led him to speculate that kissing may have developed in cultures that particularly prized body odor in the sexual selection of partners.

Science has debunked any direct correlation between nose size and the size of one's penis or clitoris, but the belief persists that one can judge a man's endowments by other, more visible, body parts, such as his nose or feet, and this belief is enshrined in literature and popular culture. Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (2003 [1794]), one of the great eighteenth-century English novels, is an extended dirty joke about a man with a large nose and the women attracted to him because of it. An extension of this logic of body-part size to genital endowment is reflected in a Miller Genuine Draft beer advertisement from 2000 that uses the tag line "Never Miss a Genuine Opportunity" to show how a man upset about having to take size 19 shoes at a bowling alley when all the other sizes run out comes to realize that the sight of his feet in the shoes also causes disinterested women to suddenly and drastically revise their opinion of him.

While they receive less overt attention than a woman's breasts, noses are becoming ever more important as beauty and sexual signifiers. Scientific interest in pheromones as chemical communicators of human desire and sexual receptivity has grown in recent years, making the nose increasingly important as a sexual organ in its own right. Nose bobs, or nose jobs, are becoming more and more common among adolescent girls in the United States, in large part because almost every Hollywood actress these days has had her nose surgically altered to make her face appear smaller, younger, and more childlike. The extent to which bobbing the nose replicates and reinforces white and European and North American beauty ideals at the expense of Semitic, African, or Asian noses makes such surgery the subject of hot debate, but it remains a cliché in the United States that many a Jewish girls of means will get her nose done before college. Nose piercing, first recorded in the Middle East approximately 4,000 years ago, has grown more popular around the world, as has body piercing more generally. Entertainers such as Madonna (b. 1958) and Lenny Kravitz (b. 1964) have pierced noses, and nose jewelry is becoming more and more socially acceptable and mainstream, perhaps because the nose itself is becoming more and more socially and aesthetically important.

see also Mucous Membranes.


Havelock, Ellis. 2001. Studies in the Psychology of Sex: Sexual Selection in Man. Honolulu, HI: University Press of the Pacific.

Kohl, James V., and Robert T. Francoeur. 1995. The Scent of Eros: Mysteries of Odor in Human Sexuality. New York: Continuum.

Sterne, Laurence. 2003. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman: The Florida Edition. Penguin Classics. (Orig. pub. 1794.)

Van Teslaar, James Samuel. 1922. Sex and the Senses. Boston: Richard G. Badger/The Gorham Press.

                                              Jaime Hovey

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468. Nose

  1. Barabas inventor of infernal machine; possessor of pachydermal snout. [Br. Lit.: The Jew of Malta ]
  2. Bardolph for red nose, known as knight of the burning lamp. [Br. Lit.: Merry Wives of Windsor ]
  3. Bergerac, Cyrano de gallant Frenchman; mocked unceasingly for extremely large nose [Fr. Lit.: Cyrano de Bergerac ]
  4. Durante, Jimmy (Schnozzola) (18931980) American pianist-comedian with huge nose. [Radio: The Jimmy Durante Show in Buxton, 124125; Am. Cinema: Halliwell, 232]
  5. Kovalév, Major loses social eminence when nose self-detaches. [Russ. Lit.: The Nose, Kent, 474497]
  6. Pinocchio wooden boys nose grows longer with every lie. [Ital. Lit.: Pinocchio ;]
  7. Rudolph his red nose lit the way for Santa and his sleigh. [Am. Pop. Music: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer]

Nosiness (See GOSSIP .)

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293. Nose

See also 14. ANATOMY ; 51. BODY, HUMAN ; 149. FACIAL FEATURES .

bleeding from the nose; nosebleed.
a scientific study of the nose. nasologist, n. nasological, adj.
an electrically lighted instrument for examining the nasal cavities. nasoscopic, adj.
the analysis of character and intelligence by studying the physical characteristics of the nose. noseological, adj.
irritation of the nose, especially of the mucous membrane lining it.
the branch of medical science that studies the nose and its diseases. rhinologist, n. rhinologic, rhinological, adj.
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noseappose, arose, Bose, brose, chose, close, compose, diagnose, doze, enclose, expose, foreclose, froze, hose, impose, interpose, juxtapose, Montrose, noes, nose, oppose, plainclothes, pose, propose, prose, rose, suppose, those, transpose, underexpose, uprose •Berlioz • flambeaux • thrombose •bandeaux • bulldoze • fricandeaux •metamorphose • pantyhose • glucose •gallows, Hallowes •tableaux • parclose • Fellows •bedclothes • nightclothes • rouleaux •underclothes • misdiagnose •Ambrose • dextrose • Faeroes •primrose • cornrows • sucrose •Burroughs • tuberose •bateaux, gateaux, plateaux •portmanteaux • fructose

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nose The protuberance on the face of some vertebrates that contains the nostrils (see nares) and part of the nasal cavity. It therefore forms part of the olfactory system (see olfaction) and the external opening of the respiratory system.

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nose sb. OE. nosu = MDu. nōse, nuese (Du. neus). Of IE. extent, but the relation of the several forms is obscure; cf. OE. nasu, OHG. nasa (G. nase), ON. nasar pl., L. nārēs pl. nostrils, nās(s)us nose, OSl. nosū, Lith. nósis, Skr. nas-; also early ME. nese = MLG., MDu. nese.
Hence vb. perceive by smell XVI; poke about, pry XVII. nosegay XV; gay sb. in the sense ‘ornament’, ‘toy’ (XIV to mod. dial.). nos(e)y sb. one having a large nose XVIII; adj. evil-smelling; (colloq.) inquisitive XIX.

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nose In human beings, other primates and some vertebrates, the prominent structure between the eyes. It contains receptors sensitive to various chemicals (sense of smell), and serves as the opening to the respiratory tract, warming and moistening the air and trapping dust particles on the mucous membranes.

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nose (nohz) n. the organ of olfaction, which also acts as an air passage that warms, moistens, and filters the air on its way to the lungs. It consists of a triangular cartilaginous projection in the front of the face that contains the nostrils (see nares). It leads to the nasal cavity, which is lined with mucous membrane containing olfactory cells.

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