look their noses down

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Mar 6 23:51:27 UTC 2012

On 3/6/2012 11:58 AM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Arnold Zwicky<zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: look their noses down
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Mar 5, 2012, at 9:18 PM, Herb Stahlke wrote:
>> I've heard "look prn. nose down" occasionally and wondered why "look
>> down" would be treated as a verb-particle construction.  "Look their
>> noses down" gets about 12k raw googits while "look down their noses"
>> gets about 5.5 million…
> now on my blog:
> http://arnoldzwicky.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/reanalysis-and-reinterpretation/

My first thought was that this expression (which I've never encountered
AFAIK) exemplified German-influenced English (perhaps as a joke) along
the lines of the venerable "He went the stairs up" (for "Er ging die
Treppe hinauf" or so, I guess). But I am skeptical of this because I see
the odd expression only in very recent published items (perhaps only
since publishers started doing without editors?).

One possibility: somebody 'reasoned' that, since "He turned up his nose
at me" can be replaced with "He turned his nose up at me", the
essentially-synonymous "He looked down his nose at me" can likewise be
replaced with "He looked his nose down at me": I suppose implicitly
taking "look [down]" as transitive, something one can do to/with one's nose.

I wonder whether the same writer who uses "look one's nose down" also
uses other odd inversions of the "go the stairs up" type.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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