Understanding the Idiom: "turn up one's nose" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
Etymology: A description of a gesture possibly universally understood as indicating scorn, contempt or disgust.Already found in Ancient Greek as ἐκμυκτηρίζω (ekmuktērízō, “I hold in derision”), from ἐκ- (ek-) (intensifier with additional senses of out from or of the nature of) and μυκτηρίζω (muktērízō, “I turn up the nose, I sneer at”), from the stem μυκτήρ (muktḗr, “nostril”).This etymology is incomplete. You can help Wiktionary by elaborating on the origins of this term.

The Origins of the Phrase

The exact origins of “turn up one’s nose” are unclear. Some speculate that it may have originated from ancient Greek mythology where gods would turn their noses upwards in disgust at mortals. Others believe that it may have come from medieval times when people would literally turn their noses away from unpleasant smells. Regardless of its origin, the phrase has become a staple in English language and culture.

Usage and Meaning

Today, “turn up one’s nose” is commonly used to express disdain or rejection towards something. It can be used in various contexts such as food (“I turned up my nose at the thought of eating snails”), fashion (“She turned up her nose at his outdated outfit”), or even relationships (“He turned up his nose at her advances”). The idiom conveys a sense of superiority and judgment towards whatever is being rejected.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “turn up one’s nose”

The idiom “turn up one’s nose” is a common expression used to describe someone who expresses disdain or contempt for something. It is often used in situations where someone rejects an idea, proposal, or suggestion without giving it proper consideration.

The origins of this idiom can be traced back to ancient times when people would use their sense of smell to determine if food was safe to eat. If they detected a foul odor, they would instinctively turn up their noses as a way of protecting themselves from potential harm.

Over time, this gesture evolved into a symbolic act that represented more than just the physical act of smelling. It became associated with social status and class distinctions, with those in higher positions turning up their noses at things they deemed beneath them.

In modern times, the idiom has taken on new meanings and uses beyond its original context. It is now commonly used to describe any situation where someone shows disdain or disapproval towards something.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “turn up one’s nose”

When it comes to idioms, understanding their usage and variations is crucial for effective communication. The idiom “turn up one’s nose” is no exception. This expression has been used in various contexts, from expressing disgust towards something or someone to showing arrogance or snobbery.

One common way this idiom is used is when someone rejects an offer or opportunity that they deem unworthy of their time or status. For example, a wealthy person may turn up their nose at a job offer that pays less than what they are accustomed to earning. In this case, the idiom implies a sense of superiority and disdain towards the offer.

Another variation of this idiom can be seen when someone expresses disapproval or contempt towards something they find distasteful or unappealing. For instance, if someone offers you food that you do not like, you may turn up your nose as a sign of rejection.

Furthermore, this expression can also be used in situations where someone shows reluctance to try something new or different due to preconceived notions about it. For example, if someone suggests trying sushi for the first time but another person turns up their nose because they believe it will taste bad without ever having tried it before.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “turn up one’s nose”

To begin with, some synonyms for “turn up one’s nose” include “snub,” “disdain,” “reject,” and “spurn.” These words all convey a sense of rejection or contempt towards something or someone. On the other hand, antonyms for this idiom might include phrases like “embrace,” “welcome,” or even simply saying that you approve of something.

It’s worth noting that the cultural context in which this expression is used can vary depending on where you are in the world. For example, in some cultures it may be considered rude to express negative opinions openly while in others it may be seen as a sign of honesty and authenticity.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “turn up one’s nose”

In order to fully grasp the meaning of the idiom “turn up one’s nose”, it is important to practice using it in various contexts. Below are some practical exercises that will help you become more comfortable with this expression.

Exercise 1: Write a short story or anecdote that includes the phrase “turn up one’s nose”. Try to use it in a way that demonstrates its meaning clearly.

Exercise 2: Create a dialogue between two characters where one uses the phrase “turn up one’s nose” and the other doesn’t understand what it means. Have them discuss and explain its meaning until both characters understand.

Exercise 3: Create a list of situations where someone might “turn up their nose”. For each situation, write a sentence or two using the idiom in context.
Exercise 4: Pick five different synonyms for “dislike” (e.g. hate, detest, loathe). Use each synonym in combination with “turn up one’s nose” to create five unique sentences.

By practicing these exercises, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to use the idiom “turn up one’s nose” effectively. Remember that idioms can be tricky, but with practice and persistence, you can master them!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “turn up one’s nose”

When using idioms in everyday conversation, it is important to understand their meanings and proper usage. The idiom “turn up one’s nose” is commonly used to express disdain or disapproval towards something or someone. However, there are certain mistakes that people often make when using this idiom.

One common mistake is using the idiom incorrectly by substituting different body parts for “nose.” For example, saying “turn up one’s chin” instead of “turn up one’s nose” can change the meaning of the expression entirely. It is important to use the correct wording in order to convey the intended message.

Another mistake is overusing the idiom in conversation. While it may be tempting to rely on familiar expressions like “turn up one’s nose,” excessive use can come across as repetitive and unoriginal. It is important to vary your language and choose appropriate idioms for each situation.

Finally, it is important not to confuse this idiom with other similar expressions such as “look down on” or “snub.” While these phrases may have similar connotations, they do not carry exactly the same meaning as “turn up one’s nose.”


  • The Amplified Bible (Lockman Foundation, 1958) available at 1
  • Wigram's Englishman's Greek Concordance (George C. Wigram, ed Jay P. Green, Sr. 1839/1903) using numbering from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (James Strong 1890) and Greek Lexicon (Joseph Thayer, 1889) all consulted at Blue Letter Bible "Lexicon and Strong's Concordance Search for 1592" (Blue Letter Bible, 1996-2002) 2 on 14 April 2006
  • Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (W E Vine, 1940) consulted at 3 on 14 April 2006
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