Decoding #RussianProverbs: Proverbs With the Word ‘Nos[e]‘.

[see Part I.]

1. Любопытной Варваре на базаре нос оторвали (lyubopytnoi Varvare na bazare nos otorvali). Literally: the nos[e] of curious Barbara was torn off at the market. English equivalent: curiosity killed the cat.

Apollinary Vasnetsov - [Russian] Bazaar. 17th century. (1903).
Apollinary Vasnetsov – [Russian] Bazaar. 17th century. (1903).

2. Зарубить на носу (zarubit’ na nosu). Literally: to make a nick on a nos[e], i.e. to firmly remember. Note: this saying is often used in the imperative mood (zarubi na nosu – make a nick on your nos[e]) and it is an impolite expression.

Apollinary Vasnetsov - Red Square in the second half of the 17th century. (1925).
Apollinary Vasnetsov – Red Square in the second half of the 17th century. (1925).

3. Остаться с носом (ostatsya s nosom). Literally: to be left with a nos[e], i.e. to be fooled or to fail something.

Apollinary Vasnetsov - Book Shops on the Spassky Bridge in the 17th century. (1916).
Apollinary Vasnetsov – Book Shops on the Spassky Bridge in the 17th century. (1916).

Probable origins of these proverbs.

The word ‘нос’ (nos) has another meaning in Russian besides ‘nose’. It’s a wooden stick 50 cm long and 4cm in diameter used in Rus’ (i.e. Ancient Russia) for trading. Nicks were made on a nos as memory marks [proverb №2.]. For example, if money for the goods on credit was not paid, the creditor was left with ‘nos’ only but with no money and no goods [proverb №3.]. Thus, too curious person could be left without ‘nos’ or part of the ‘nos’ could be cut off so s/he would have problems with debt [proverb №1.].

The word ‘nos’ is a derivate from a verbal noun ‘podnoshenie’ (meanings: offering, gift, potlatch and even bribe). Thus, proverb №3. could also mean that an offering/bribe to an official(s) was not accepted and negotiating parties did not come to an agreement.
A similar version states that ‘nos’ means a gift given by a groom to bride’s parents according to an ancient tradition. If it was not accepted, a marriage would not happen.

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4 thoughts on “Decoding #RussianProverbs: Proverbs With the Word ‘Nos[e]‘.”

    1. Actually, it depends on what meaning of the word ‘нос’ (transliterated as ‘nos’) you want to emphasize. Because in modern Russian ‘nos’ as a wooden stick is an archaism (and I thought that curious Barbara got her nose torn off before I did my little research on this proverb), I guess it’s OK if you say ‘nose’.

      P.S. I hope you’ll enjoy your time in Russia!

      Best wishes,
      Sergey.

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