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Old 11-20-2003, 11:27 AM
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Origin of Thumb Your Nose?

What is the origin of thumb your nose, and what does it really mean?

Old 11-20-2003, 02:09 PM
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It is the familiar rude gesture made by children, where they put their thunb on their nose, stick out their tongue and wiggle their fingers. Often accompanied by singing "nah-nah NAH na naaaah-nah" or similar.

Also known as "cocking a snook."
Old 11-20-2003, 02:33 PM
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Some unsung genius, who really needed a way to convey a message, invented it.
Old 11-20-2003, 03:26 PM
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Re: Origin of Thumb Your Nose?

Here is what I found on this link:

Dear Word Detective: I wonder whether you could throw any light on the origin and meaning of the phrase "to thumb your nose at somebody"? -- Stephen Davey, via the Internet.

Ah, your question reminds me of the good old days, when you could thumb your nose at someone and the worst you could expect in return was a bop on your own nose. Today, people are afraid to express even mild annoyance at a stranger for fear of being shot or otherwise seriously injured. Here in New York City, for instance, it's not considered a good idea to display anger at a driver who tries to run you down in a crosswalk, lest he or she back up and finish the job. I guess you're just supposed to smile and lie down in the street.

To "thumb your nose at someone" is actually a fairly straightforward description of a gesture that used to be known by a much more intriguing name -- "cocking a snook." It's a classic display of derision, properly performed by spreading the fingers of one hand, touching the tip of your nose with your thumb while sighting your opponent along the tips of your other fingers, and waggling your fingers in the most annoying way possible. As a gesture, it doesn't really mean anything, but it does convey utter contempt rather well. Like all fine insulting gestures, cocking a snook always goes well with a Bronx Cheer, or raspberry, as an accompaniment. Crossing your eyes while doing all this is optional but definitely enhances the overall effect. And remember, kids, practice makes perfect.

While the phrase "thumb one's nose" first appeared in English around 1903, "cocking a snook" is much older, first appearing in print back in 1791. The verb "to cock" comes from strutting behavior of male chickens, and means, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, "to turn up in an assertive, pretentious, jaunty, saucy, or defiant way." The "snook" is of uncertain origin, but may be related to "snout," which would certainly make sense.
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