"Shunned their noses at us"

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According to David Freedlander, "Anger Over Fiscal-Cliff Deal Fires Up Tea Party", The Daily Beast 1/3/2012:

[A]fter 85 House Republicans joined Boehner in raising taxes without spending reductions during the end game of Monday night’s fiscal-cliff negotiations, Tea Party leaders and conservative activists from around the country are dusting off their tri-corner hats and “Don’t Tread On Me” signs, and now say that their members are as energized as they have ever been since the first Tax Day protests in 2009. And the Republican Party, they add, had better beware.

“We now have 85 members of the House who have shunned their noses at us,” said Dustin Stockton, a Texas- and Nevada-based operative and the chief strategist of The Tea Party.net. [emphasis added]

This is clearly a malapropism for "thumbed their noses at us". But we're left with the usual problem of attributional abduction: Was it Dustin Stockton who has a little glitch in his lexicon, or David Freelander, or some anonymous transcriber?

There are no instances of "shunned" on http://www.theteaparty.net, FWIW.

There are a few earlier examples on the web, for instance in this cat-food review:

Whiskas Temptations are a special treat for cats. I got them as a free sample, thinking my cats wouldn't like them because they are picky. Also because we have tried other treats and they shunned their noses up at them. But when I opened them up, both my cats Iris, a 22 year old and Daisy a 2 year old ate these up!

Or this restaurant review (also featuring cats):

They gave me free ice cream as a first time customer but that chicken was so bad my cats even shunned their noses at it so I can't give more than one star sorry !!! ]=

Or in this tale of legal woes:

At that point, the law firm for Pardue and Atkins withdrew or quit.  Multiple requests were made to the Court to set the case for trial.  All of the discovery had taken place.  The case only needed a trial.  But the court – Judge Quisenberry- refused.   Even when there was no law firm or attorney of record, the Judge refused to grant a trial date, even though the lawyers for Pardue and Atkins had just wasted eight months and shunned their noses at the duty to answer a lawsuit.

Or in these slides on "Jacksonian Democracy":

Some other relevant examples from the web:

We offered an enormous amount of money, but he shunned his nose at it.

Bill Reeves for years now has totally ignored, if not shunned his nose, at a large number of fishermen in this state and decided to rule by iron thumb and not listen to what the people paying his salary want.

I'm interested in giving it a try but my wife has already shunned her nose up at the idea.

I was young and ignorant and full of visions of Picard and Sisko. So I shunned my nose at all other TV sci-fi.

Note that the meaning has shifted as well as the sound. Presumably people who have (mis-)learned the idiom  heard "thumb one's nose" as "shun one's nose", and then adjusted the meaning to include a blend of influences from shun and from turn up one's nose. Given this effect on the meaning, maybe I should change my mind and classify this as an eggcorn rather than as a malapropism.

We shouldn't make fun of people who make mistakes like this — most of us have at least a few such gems somewhere in our mental lexicon. And given that we all need to learn tens of thousands of words and tens of thousands of idiomatic phrases, it's a miracle that we don't have more.

[Hat tip to Keith Ellis]



36 Comments

  1. chemiazrit said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 6:59 am

    This is clearly a malapropism for "thumbed their noses at us".

    "Thumbed their noses" would be the apposite idiom for Mr. Stockton, but it seems probable most of the other instances are malapropisms for "snubbed their noses." (A cat, at any rate, could hardly "thumb its nose"!)

    [(myl) As I said, "Presumably people who have (mis-)learned the idiom heard 'thumb one's nose' as 'shun one's nose', and then adjusted the meaning to include a blend of influences from shun and from turn up one's nose."]

  2. Sockatume said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 7:08 am

    It strikes me that this sort of process is where some of our more intractably nonsensical idioms come from. It also strikes me that I can't come up with an example. Probably, it's easier for me to bring to mind idioms which I can make sense of.

    It seems a shame that people are deprived of two perfectly effective metaphors by the combination here. Thumbing your nose is a very different kind of derision than turning up your nose at someone, and they both have very different connotations than "shun" in my mind.

  3. chemiazrit said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 7:22 am

    Yes, I read what you wrote.

    My point, however, was that to "snub (possessive pronoun) nose" is a fairly common informal idiomatic usage, and far closer in meaning to "shun" than "thumb" is. While it's certainly possible some the users of "shun x's nose" got there by mishearing "thumb," it seems no less probable that they got there via "snub."

    [(myl) An interesting idea. But I'm not convinced that snub one's nose is "a fairly common informal idiomatic usage" -- in the 450-million-word COCA corpus, there are just 6 hits for the search pattern {snub|snubs|snubbed|snubbing his|her|my|our|their nose}, e.g.

    Jim Wooten snubs his nose at our finding that 69 percent of Georgians are willing to pay $25 or more per year for improved trauma care

    In comparison, {thumb|thumbs|thumbed|thumbing his|her|my|our|their nose} gets 184 hits.]

  4. Ginger Yellow said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 7:39 am

    My point, however, was that to "snub (possessive pronoun) nose" is a fairly common informal idiomatic usage,

    Perhaps, but that's also an eggcorn of "thumb one's nose", or at least some sort of malformation. Presumably with influence from the verb "snub" and from "snub-nosed".

  5. chemiazrit said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 8:23 am

    Perhaps, but that's also an eggcorn of "thumb one's nose", or at least some sort of malformation.

    I think this raises the interesting question of how frequent a particular usage has to be before it can no longer be dismissed as a "malformation," but has instead become an idiom with a life of its own.

    I was going by Google hits for "snub his (her, your, my their) nose." I am aware that G-hits are an unreliable metric, but in this instance there are so many of them from so many different sources that I don't hesitate at all to say its "fairly common" on the web, if not in printed sources.

  6. Ø said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 8:29 am

    There might be a little interference from "stub your toe" as well.

    By the way, about the expression "snub nose", more or less synonymous with "turned up nose" and referring to a shape that a nose may have rather than to a gesture performed with the nose: I suppose that its history is tangled up somehow with that of the verb "snub"?

  7. Boudica said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    I came across an interesting one today in an Amazon review of a movie, calling the movie "a diamond in the rust" instead of in the rough.

  8. Mr Fnortner said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    Another example of people speaking a language they don't understand. Apparently, as long as you feel like you're making sense, the actual words don't matter.

  9. Ginger Yellow said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 9:23 am

    I was going by Google hits for "snub his (her, your, my their) nose." I am aware that G-hits are an unreliable metric, but in this instance there are so many of them from so many different sources that I don't hesitate at all to say its "fairly common" on the web, if not in printed sources.

    Being fairly common doesn't prevent it from being an eggcorn. "For all intensive purposes" is possibly more common in informal contexts than the original phrase these days.

  10. Sockatume said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 9:29 am

    While "snub one's nose" is idiomatic, "snub nose" is (IIRC) some sort of military adjective for the shape of a weapon. Yet another interferer.

    There's too much crosstalk in this language, I'm swearing it off for Esperanto.

  11. Wicked Lad said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 11:16 am

    There's too much crosstalk in this language, I'm swearing it off for Esperanto.

    But apparently not yet, as St. Augustine would say.

  12. vic said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 11:21 am

    @Boudica – I wonder if the reviewer was mis-influenced by Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust" (and as a programmer, I refuse to put the question mark before the closing quote, so I'm adding this parenthetical, but now don't know how to properly end the sentence, so ..)

  13. Rod Johnson said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

    "Snub one's nose" is idiomatic? Sounds like a blend of "snub" and "thumb one's nose" to me, a malapropism of the same sort as "shun one's nose." What does "snub" mean wrt noses?

  14. Rod Johnson said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

    @vic: that's a case where question marks legitimately go after the quotes, even in the US.

  15. John Lawler said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

    To turn from the lexical to the syntactic, I'm interested in the sentence about Peggy Eaton:

    Peggy Eaton was the middle class wife of a Senator whom the women of D. C. shunned their noses to her.

    What in the world is going on with this construction? Whomification?

  16. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

    @ Sockatume — You're probably thinking of "hone in on."

    BTW, if you do not have a cat, you will never understand "snub one's nose." My cat, Ernie, just snubbed his nose at 9 Lives Chicken Dinner. He stood with his nose over his bowl for a couple of minutes, made a litter-box gesture with a paw, then stalked away, his body language implying that he had narrowly escaped poisoning. No other expression does the performance justice.

  17. hector said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

    @ Dan Lufkin — Yes, clearly what happened is that someone, seeing similar behaviour in their cat, made a play on words, substituting "snub" for "thumb," and said, "Hey, Katmandu just snubbed his nose at his food again."

    His visiting friend, also a cat owner, heard this, and said, "Hah. Cat man don't." Days later, when his own cat stopped eating the brand of food she'd been eating happily for the past seven frigging years, he repeated his friend's "snubbed her nose at it," and thus the witticism began to spread. And lo, a new idiom had been invented.

    Eggcorn, my ass.

  18. Nathan said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

    @John Lawler: That whomification is just a train wreck all around. It looks like someone absorbed a lot of prescriptive poppycock and forgot their native grammar.

  19. Mona Williams said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 4:16 pm

    @vic:
    But you don't need a question mark if you're just wondering about something, do you? (Or do you…?)

  20. Chris C. said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

    No doubt, this has a great deal to do with the fact that thumbing one's nose is no longer a common rude gesture, at least not in the US.

  21. Keith M Ellis said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

    Yah, I wondered about the attribution problem. It'd be interesting to know if Stockton actually uses this expression. I suppose someone could ask him.

    My mother is one of those people prone to malapropisms of the mixed-metaphor variety — this is exactly the sort of thing she's likely to say. I've noticed that typically she's not thought deliberately about the idioms she gets wrong, but rather they exist in some half-digested gestalt form with their meaning arising from a combination of their typical usage context and the key verbs and nouns. Which is to say, she rarely experiences language in a deliberate, analytical fashion. She's quite unlike those of us here. (I very much don't intend any value judgments in that. Different people are different.)

    But there are malapropisms that do arise from deliberate analysis, albeit idiosyncratic. This can be whenever anyone, of whatever temperament, happens to have deliberated over some puzzling usage. However, I do think that there is a personality type quite distinct from that of my mother's, who does tend toward deliberate analysis of language usage … but tends to get things wrong. Not just in the form of malapropisms, but other mistakes, too. This is arguably the domain of folk etymologies and some kinds of prescriptivism — a possible combination of limited awareness/knowledge and inappropriately applied imagination.

  22. Rubrick said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

    I'm amused that in one of your examples contains the phrase "rule by iron thumb" in close proximity to "shunned his nose".

    Also, I disagree with the first half of your assertion that "We shouldn't make fun of people who make mistakes like this — most of us have at least a few such gems somewhere in our mental lexicon." I surely have my share of such gems, and encourage everyone to tease me about any they discover. How am I to craft self-skewering anecdotes about my foibles if no one points them out?

    Change it to "shouldn't look down on" and I'll agree wholeheartedly.

  23. The Ridger said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 7:25 pm

    I find the punctuation in "Bill Reeves for years now has totally ignored, if not shunned his nose, at a large number of fishermen" rather odd, as I do the "to" in the Peggy Eaton quote – that one has a more active and personal feel that merely "at".

    I have never heard either "snub" or "shun" used with noses.

  24. Keith M Ellis said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

    There is such a thing (a gun) as a "snub-nosed revolver". Which derives, presumably, from actual noses (faces) being "snub-nosed". Or something.

  25. Rebecca said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 7:33 pm

    I also have never heard of snubbing or shunning one's nose, but perhaps they are both just a milder way to spite one's face, when cutting off seems too harsh.

  26. mgh said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 8:01 pm

    Besides "shun" and "thumb" sounding (a little) alike, the sense of "shun" as "to turn away from" might have suggested it as an alternative form of "turn up one's nose" — moving this more into eggcorn territory!

  27. Julie said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

    A "snub nose" is generally one which is short and turned up. So a shorter-than-standard gun (or other tool which might be said to have a nose) might also be called snub-nosed.

    "Snub one's nose" makes perfect sense to me. A snub nose is turned up. (In my accent, that's homophonous with "snubbed nose.") So to snub one's nose at = turn one's nose up at = snub someone = look down upon them. On occasion I've described a snob by pushing up my nose a bit.

    Thumbing one's nose means something different. And shunning one's nose….

  28. Steve Morrison said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 8:59 pm

    It strikes me that this sort of process is where some of our more intractably nonsensical idioms come from. It also strikes me that I can't come up with an example.

    Well, to justify this conjecture does require coming up with some examples. After all, the proof is in the pudding.

  29. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 10:03 pm

    @John Lawler: I think that's the standard use of "whom"; the strangeness is due to the awkward placement of the relative clause (only a minor defect) and in the nonstandard use of a resumptive pronoun, namely "her". I'm guessing the resumptive pronoun was included due to avoidance of P-stranding. (You have to admit, the version with the resumptive pronoun is less bad than a pied-piped version, "to whom the women of D. C. shunned their noses". If P-stranding is forbidden, then there are no good options.)

  30. esimotso said,

    January 5, 2013 @ 7:21 am

    'cock a snook' ?

  31. Caroline said,

    January 5, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

    I have to admit I quite like the mental image of people so outraged that they rejected their own noses in protest. Just how mad can a person get? Can you shun your nose to spite your face?

  32. Bloix said,

    January 7, 2013 @ 11:18 am

    You can turn up your nose, and you can look down your nose, but only a plastic surgeon can snub your nose.

  33. Terry Collmann said,

    January 8, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    @Bloix – oh I don't know – if you cut off your nose to spite your face, it might be argued that you've snubbed it in both senses (using 'cut' in the sense 'ignore someone').

  34. Rod Johnson said,

    January 8, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

    To the people who feel "snub one's nose" is idiomatic English: seriously? What does "snub" mean to you?

  35. Lord Mondegreen said,

    January 9, 2013 @ 7:09 pm

    Well, while all in tents are porpoises, a clod's as good as a shrink to a flying cat, right?

  36. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup: Passings, words of the year, foreign words | Wordnik said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 10:28 am

    [...] ideography depicting the plot of Les Miserables, and Mark Liberman considered the malapropism, shunned their noses at us; the unclear shooting dead people; and grammar on [...]

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