Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Turn up your nose, or turn it down?

I was drafting a post about "looking down one's nose" when I was distracted, over the weekend, by the slightly early arrival of the grandchild formerly known as the New March Baby. So when I noticed yesterday that Arnold Zwicky had posted about the idiom "look down one's nose" while I was off toasting little Bridget Frances with pink champagne, I thought maybe I'd been scooped.

But no, it was a just a cosmic coincidence. Arnold's post is about the reanalysis of look down one's nose as a verb + particle rather than verb + preposition, giving birth to the novel construction look one's nose down (at). The innovation I'd heard on the radio was a different one: A week ago on "Talk of the Nation," Ken Rudin referred to Rick Santorum's "turn[ing] his nose down" at the idea of higher education for all.

A nice blend, I assume, of turn up one's nose and look down one's nose. And hardly an unlikely one, since turning up one's nose and looking down one's nose are so closely related that the Oxford English Dictionary defines them together: "(b) to turn up one's nose (at): to show disdain or scorn (for); similarly to look down one's nose (at)." Also, turn down all by itself means "reject, refuse," so it may sound more appropriate for a phrase that conveys dismissiveness.

The OED's earliest cite for the turn up version comes from Colley Cibber's 1721 play "The Refusal": "A Man must be nice indeed, that turns up his Nose at a Woman, who has no worse Imperfection, than setting too great a Value upon her Understanding." Its earliest example of the look down variant is two centuries later, from John Galsworthy: "That chap Jolyon's water-colours were on view there. He went in to look down his nose at them -- it might give him some faint satisfaction" (1921). But Google Books easily antedates it to the mid-19th century: "Be very proud, look down your nose, make him a distant bow" ("The Personal Adventures of Our Own Correspondent in Italy," 1852).

Now, I vaguely remember doing Google searches for turn down one's nose (and finding a few hundred), but I don't see my notes, and I'm too tired to do it again. So I will leave the topic with this almost relevant observation from stand-up comedian Tom Cotter: "We say stupid stuff -- 'He looks down his nose at me.' Well, of course, we all look down our nose. If he could look up his nose at you, either he'd be a freak or you'd be a booger."


Kay L. Davies said...

Almost relevant...I like that, and you're right, but who are we to turn our noses one way or the other at it?
Congratulations on the birth of The March Baby. I hope it went well and everyone is healthy, including any and all grandparents.

Bryan White said...

"Look down your nose" calls to mind an image of disdain. Turning your nose up at something, on the other hand, suggests something haughty and dismissive, something akin to "sticking your nose in the air" or just being "stuck up."

"Turn down your nose" calls to mind no image at all, and suggests nothing more than someone who can perform impossible facial contortions. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that before. It sounds like nothing more than a delirious confusion between the two phrases. However, I'm sure there will be plenty of people claiming that that's the way everyone says it where they live.

If they say so.

Gregory Lee said...

A nice blend, I assume, of turn up one's nose and look down one's nose.

Perhaps your and Arnold's topics are related, since how can one blend a particle construction ("turn up") and a prepositional construction ("look down")?

T. Roger Thomas said...

Congratulations on being around to celebrate the arrival of a new grammarian!

I'm still not convinced that either version belongs anywhere other than the wastebasket in a writer's work space.