Monday, September 5, 2016


Probably the most famous reference to the nose is the phrase “Cleopatra’s nose,”  derived from Pascal’s celebrated pensee, “If the nose of Cleopatra had been shorter, the whole face of the earth would have been changed,” which cunningly incorporates Cleopatra’s face in that of the earth. “The Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” explicates this as alluding to the beauty and charm of Cleopatra, and her conquest of, first Julius Caesar, then Mark Anthony.

This is especially interesting because of its implication, which can be variously interpreted as short being better than long or vice versa. It always reminded me, appropriately or not, of one of my youthful idols, the charming French actress in both Paris and Hollywood, my namesake Simone Simon, whose nose was perfectly snub. As the film scholar David Thomson puts it, “It was a small, pretty face, a little pinched around the nose and slanted in the eyes.” Pinched around the nose, strikes me as nonsense; it was the small, upturned nose itself that could perhaps be called pinched, but what it would have done to Caesar and Anthony remains unclear.

Anthony reminds me of Anthony Weiner, who has a long, thin, downward-pointing, really scimitar-shaped nose.  It may have been part of what appealed to Huma Amedin, his wife. If I may be allowed “a technical term no longer in use” (as my dictionary tells me), there is such a thing as the Hamitic or (still in use) Semitic nose, which latter caused both Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow to be nicknamed The Nose.

No less characteristic is its opposite, the Roman nose, the kind that is straight, with an outline that continues without indentation the downward thrust of the brow. Though reputedly Roman, it’s a shape I have not encountered on any Roman bust I have seen in museums. Could it be that the sculptors eschewed and, as they thought, improved on it?

The second-most mythical one is the Pope’s nose, which, according to Brewer, is also called the Parson’s nose, and refers to “the rump of a fowl . . . said to have originated during the years following James II’s reign (1685-1688), when anti-Catholic feeling was high.”

The third-most famous, or notorious, nose is that of Cyrano de Bergerac, in Edmond Rostand popular play about him. The protagonist has an immense nose, about which he is very sensitive, and has him woo his beloved Roxane not for himself, but for his friend, the handsome but ineloquent Christian. With tragic irony, years later, the widowed Roxane lets him know that she could have loved him anyway--rather too late, what with her now a nun, and him dying.

The nose is both famous and infamous as asserted in phrases and references. In my personal experience, the actress Patti LuPone stated that she did not know that her nose was big until she read it in a review by me, this intended by her not as a compliment, I being neither Caesar nor Mark Anthony.

Which brings me to what may be the fourth-most famous nose, that of the great Roman poet Ovid, more fully Publius Ovidius Naso, suggested by his cognomen
Naso, most likely incorrectly, as large. The Naso probably came from his family name, and not from his “nasus” or its declension as “naso.”

Among the lesser writings of this famed love poet—trice married, the third time happily—is a poem in elegiacs, of which only the tiniest fragment has survived. It was called “Medicamina faciei femineae,” and was, according to “The Oxford Classical Dictionary,” a “handbook of cosmetics for the female toilet.” I would like to think that it contained something about women’s noses.

Latin poetry had much to do with noses, as in the term “nasutus,” which meant large-nosed in Horace, but acute or satirical and even sagacious in Martial. The word for nose itself has echoes in sundry languages, thus “nez” in French, “Nase” in German, “nos” in Serbian, “naso” in Italian, and so on. Spanish even has “narizon” for large-nosed (forgive my keyboard’s lack of accents) and “narizota” for a large, ugly schnoz, the latter Yiddish. It must all derive, I imagine, from Indo-European roots.

For the basic meanings of nose, my Heritage Dictionary has several, including the sense of smell in a dog with a good nose, also the ability to detect things as if by smell, the characteristic smell of a wine, a symbol for prying as also in the adjective nosy or nosey, and for a very short distance by which a horse often wins a race.

Oddly enough, it took Cicero to state the obvious but relevant. He wrote, and I translate, of the nose as “so located as to be viewed as a wall interposed between the eyes.” It would clearly not do to fail to keep the eyes apart. And what Cicero does not, indeed cannot, mention, the nose is what helps keep your spectacles on your face.

Let us now examine some of the chief phrases as yet unmentioned in which the nose figures. They are: on the nose (of a bull’s eye), led by the nose, to bite someone’s nose off, to count noses , to cut off your nose to spite your face, to follow one’s nose, to pay through the nose, to keep one’s nose to the grindstone, to look down one’s nose, to poke one’s nose in, to put one’s nose out of joint, to turn up your nose, under one’s very nose.

And then there are the figures in history known as nosy, not for their curiosity but for their large noses. Thus Wellington was nicknamed Nosy by his troops, with the same moniker bestowed also on Oliver Cromwell. But where does the expression for an inquisitive type, Nosy Parker, come from? Who was this Parker? A pen?

Lastly, if there is a lastly, the words that merely sound as if they had to do with noses, such as “nosology,” which is the classification of diseases, but which I always wanted to mean the science and study of noses.
                                                                                                                                                                    My not quite last edition of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” lists 22 items under “nose,” of which I’ll adduce two. One is from a poem by Thomas Ravenscroft (17th Century), entitled “Deuteromelia,” and runs: “Nose, nose, nose, nose!/ And who gave thee this jolly red nose?/ Nutmeg and ginger, cinnamon and cloves,/ And they gave me this jolly red nose.”

The other is a line from “Cyrano de Bergerac” in the Brian Hooker translation: “A great nose indicates a great man,” When I was in the army, I heard it differently: “Great nose, great cock.” This, I suspect, would not stand up under investigation, but it made some of the shorter soldiers with large noses feel bigger and better.

As for me, a beautiful girlfriend from the distant past, looking at me in the nude, remarked, “It’s just the right size for me.” Was it really? And what is the right size anyway? Who knows?


  1. Now wait. Was the girl nude, or were you? Well, I guess it doesn't matter if she was talking about your nose.
    Simon has a fine nose. I always thought it was perfect.

    Some dudes are "Boob Guys" and some go for the ass. I'm a "Nose Guy." Not that I don't enjoy lounging around on the front and back porches, I certainly do, but a woman has to have the correct nose for me to consider her top-shelf.

    A woman's nose can't be too small or too big. It can't be sloped like Bob Hope's. It can't be too bulbous. It definitely can't be shaped like a potato. I'd always think of Michael J. Pollard in "Bonnie and Clyde." I don't like a turned up nose that shows too much of the nostrils, either. That's gross. Also gross, and I don't want to seem racist here but it's just true for me, I can't handle the Black Nose. The flattened, widespread nostril holes is a no-go nose-hole. Fine for some, but not me.

    I like a good, solid snout. Maybe, slightly bigger than what most people would call "normal." I want to punctuate the word: "slightly." I can't have a woman with a bulldozer on her face, but a nice size nose is important. The nose can't be "pinched," as Simon was talking about. The classic Roman will suffice nicely.

    Women with great noses: Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor, Kate Winslet.

  2. There truly is a phallic aspect to the nose -- Autolycus in 'The Winter's Tale' sells "Masks for faces and for noses," and I've thought (probably incorrectly) that the masks for noses referred to a type of prophylactic.... Here's me singing my own musical adaptation of the song of Autolycus:

    1. Fantastic! I loved that rendition! Very nice tone and timing. I can accompany you on acoustic guitar.

    2. Thanks, U.K. -- one criticism of my version might be that it's too much of a fetishistic paean to the items he's selling.... Yes, an acoustic guitar accompaniment would add much, especially if you pound the chords hard at the very suggestive line, "Pins and poking-sticks of steel"!

    3. Yes, I'd do some kind of Led Zeppelin thing at that point. With my shirt off.

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  4. Nosy Parker: sobriquet applied to Dorothy Parker, due to acerbic wit, criticisms of celebrities, and advocacy of unpopular causes. AJL

    1. Dorothy Parker

      "Love Song"

      My own dear love, he is strong and bold
      And he cares not what comes after.
      His words ring sweet as a chime of gold,
      And his eyes are lit with laughter.
      He is jubilant as a flag unfurled—
      Oh, a girl, she’d not forget him.
      My own dear love, he is all my world,—
      And I wish I’d never met him.

      My love, he’s mad, and my love, he’s fleet,
      And a wild young wood-thing bore him!
      The ways are fair to his roaming feet,
      And the skies are sunlit for him.
      As sharply sweet to my heart he seems
      As the fragrance of acacia.
      My own dear love, he is all my dreams,—
      And I wish he were in Asia.

      My love runs by like a day in June,
      And he makes no friends of sorrows.
      He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon
      In the pathway of the morrows.
      He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start,
      Nor could storm or wind uproot him.
      My own dear love, he is all my heart,—
      And I wish somebody’d shoot him.

    2. This is too good. Words echoed by many women!

  5. Head over heels

    "It's just the right size for me,"
    Said Simon's girl affectionately,
    As he stood before her nakedly.

    At which it began to uptick.
    Winking, she slid over quick,
    And gave his nose a flick.

    Starting to feel a flush,
    He grabbed his briefs in a rush,
    And covered his head not tush.

    She let out a spontaneous laugh,
    Grabbed her belly, doubled in half,
    King Simon approached with his staff...

    1. Sounds like a date to remember! I need a cache of memories like that one....

  6. John....
    Nothing about Barbra Streisand's infamous proboscis, that you have hysterically rhapsodized about ,many a time in 50 years?

  7. Here's something publisher William Targ wrote about Mr. Simon, from Targ's 1975 book 'Indecent Pleasures':

    The Public Conscience

    John Simon, the theatre critic, is the conscience of our community and we should be grateful for at least one totally honest observer in town. While he is often the minority of one, count it a plus, an asset. He is the one voice that will utter "shoddy" or "merde," without fear of retaliation from the Establishment or "interests." I often disagree with him --- my tastes are sometimes low; but I find his dissent stimulating, and more than that, a force that compels me to examine my own responses more carefully. This is his chief merit and we must cherish him for that. The book review, fashion, and sports media could use a John Simon; more visceral integrity is needed in reporting and reviewing, and he has plenty!

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  10. “Let’s Call the Whole Union Off” (with apologies to George and Ira Gershwin)

    I say a seizure,
    You say a shimmy ---
    You say, "With Her"-uh,
    I say, "With Him"-y ---
    A seizure ---
    A shimmy ---
    "With Her"-uh ---
    "With Him"-y ---
    Let’s call the whole Union off….

  11. I Googled these lyrics and this is what came up. It's the partial script for "The Royal Tennenbaums"

    The Royal Tenenbaums Script



    Royal Tenenbaum bought the house on Archer Avenue

    "in the winter of his 35th year".

    Over the next decade

    he and his wife had three children

    "and then they separated".

    Are you getting divorced?

    At the moment, no... but... it doesn't look good.

    Do you still love us?

    Of course I do.

    Do you still love Mom?

    Yes, very much, but your mother's asked me to leave

    and I must respect her position on the matter.

    Is it our fault?



    Obviously, we made certain sacrifices

    as a result of having children, but, uh...

    no, Lord, no.

  12. Yes, Royal Tenenbaum and his wife symbolize red America and blue America, about to get a divorce. Their three children could be (pick three): the military-industrial complex, the credit-financial complex, the medical-pharmaceutical complex, the prison-rehabilitation complex, etc.

    I've read that Nietzsche wrote something like, if you see something tottering, push it over. Should a patriot push over a tottering structure, or should he try to prop it up?

  13. Geez louise, I totally forgot the education-credential complex -- that's a big one that bears great responsibility for the mess we're in....

  14. I came up with a much-improved version:

    “Let’s Call the Whole Union Off” (with apologies to George and Ira Gershwin)

    I say a seizure,
    You say a shimmy ---
    You say, "I’m With Her",
    I say, "I’m With He" ---
    "I’m With Her" ---
    "I’m With He" ---
    A seizure ---
    A shimmy ---
    Let’s call the whole Union off….

  15. As usual, terrific, fun, interesting piece by John Simon. What a national treasure he is!