some footnotes to recent postings

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Jan 27 17:17:00 UTC 2002

>Douglas G. Wilson suggests a possible association with one's hand-
>position while using a sextant: It has been 30+ years since I read his
>book, but as I recall Prof. Taylor's conclusion, it was that the
>gesture could not be documented before relatively recent times, perhaps
>the beginning of the 19th C., and that he supposed that it was a parody
>of a military salute, which, it seems, also came into use relatively

I don't suggest that the gesture itself is based on use of a sextant or
similar device, only that the word "sight" in connection with the
nose-thumbing gesture might be so based.

Here is an example dated 1702, in Farmer and Henley (under "sight", quoting
"Eng. Theophrastus"):

<<... there are four little satyrs, one of whom is taking a single sight,
or making "a nose" at the lady; whilst a second is taking a double sight,
or "long nose," towards the spectator. [N. & Q., 5 S., iii.298.]>>

Farmer and Henley give "sight" = "a gesture of derision: the thumb on the
nose-tip and the fingers spread fan-wise ... A double sight is made by
joining the tip of the little finger (already in position) to the thumb of
the other hand, the fingers being similarly extended."

Equivalents (in Farmer and Henley) include "making a nose",
"cocking/cutting snooks/a snook", "[making (?)] Queen Anne's fan", "taking
a sight", "taking a grinder", "working the coffee-mill" [these last two
apparently involving pantomiming the operation of an imaginary nose-crank],
"pulling bacon". One might speculate as to whether there might be some
phallic symbolism ....

-- Doug Wilson

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