Plain as what on your face?

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David Smith, "Trump Tower meeting with Russians 'treasonous', Steve Bannon says in explosive book", The Guardian 12/3/2017:

Bannon has criticised Trump’s decision to fire Comey. In Wolff’s book, obtained by the Guardian ahead of publication from a bookseller in New England, he suggests White House hopes for a quick end to the Mueller investigation are gravely misplaced.

“You realise where this is going,” he is quoted as saying. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”

The usual phrase, of course, is "as plain as the nose on your face".  "A hair on your face" isn't especially plain — depending on who you are, what sort of hair it is, etc., it might be somewhat noticeable, but less so than a lot of other things. And I can't find any earlier examples of this simile choice.

Contextually implausible substitutions like this are usually a blend of two related expressions, like "until the  cows turn blue", or "as easy as falling off a piece of cake". But I can't figure out where that hair comes from. Any ideas?



  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 11:39 am

    No ideas, but I'm wondering whether "Their path to fucking Trump" is "Their path to Trump" with emphasis, or "Their path to fucking Trump over",

  2. Stephen Anderson said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 11:50 am

    "Plain as the hair" gets a fair number of Google hits, including both "plain as the hair on your/my face" as well as "plain as the hair on your head".

  3. AG said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 12:05 pm

    My guess is that Bannon “nose” that he’s notorious for the Rudolph-like rubicundity of his proboscis, so he hyper-corrected, borrowing from the phrase “Don’t harm/touch a hair on [someone’s] head”.

  4. Rebecca said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 12:07 pm

    Three little pigs, maybe? "Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin"

  5. Stephen Goranson said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 12:51 pm

    One failed hypothesis: I checked for a remarkably full beard of the (presumed) interviewer, Michael Wolff. Nope, if I saw appropriate photos. Mostly bald, too.

  6. Stephen Goranson said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 1:04 pm

    So, perhaps boasting of his superior knowledge: what is plain to him is occult to the interviewer's presumed lesser understanding? Or not.

  7. Gregory Kusnick said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

    For what it's worth, many photos of Bannon show him with a lock of hair falling forward into his face.

  8. MattF said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 1:35 pm

    Maybe it's Bannon's rhetorical trick to get a Random Internet Browser to pay attention to what he's saying.

  9. Roscoe said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 1:46 pm

    "Like finding a hair in your soup," perhaps?

  10. Stephen Hart said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 1:50 pm

    Jerry Friedman said,
    "No ideas, but I'm wondering whether "Their path to fucking Trump" is "Their path to Trump" with emphasis, or "Their path to fucking Trump over",

    It could be an emphatic adjective on "path." Or it could have been intended to be a negative adjective attached to "Trump." Or, as Jerry Friedman suggests, it could be a verb.

  11. Bloix said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 2:42 pm

    Michael Wolff, the author who (apparently) was talking to Bannon when he said this, is clean-shaven and as bald as an egg.

  12. aka_darrell said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 5:00 pm

    I first thought of "Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin." from somewhere in my youth. Rebecca, above, mentions it too.

  13. David Morris said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 5:34 pm

    I'm trying not to interpret 'their path to fucking Trump' literally.

  14. Ralph Hickok said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 6:59 pm

    My paternal grandmother (b. 1896 in Wisconsin) very often said "plain as the hair on your head."

    [(myl) That makes sense as a source for the blend. There's still the interesting substitution of "a" for "the"…]

  15. Rod Johnson said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 9:31 pm

    Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin?

  16. Rod Johnson said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 9:32 pm

    Oh, man, I overlooked that answer *twice*.

  17. Graeme said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 3:53 am

    Particularly follicularly revealing, the whole book.

  18. bzfgt said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 4:42 am

    The real question is, what the hell is a "jumo"?

    [(myl) For those who didn't notice, this is from another quote:

    Bannon also speculated that Trump Jr had involved his father in the meeting. “The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.”

    Ben Zimmer suggests that this is a mistranscription for "jamokes".]

  19. Stephen Goranson said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 6:13 am

    Slate Magazine raises the possibility that Wolff inaccurately reports (other) quotes.*
    The Guardian's report that "he is quoted as saying" leaves open the possibility that this is a second-hand quote. More context in the book might clarify that.
    But *if* the quotation is accurately ascribed and reported first hand, I strain to try to interpret it as perhaps an attempt to be clever: a putative imagined hair on Wolff's face might have seemed a remarkable scenario to Bannon?

  20. mollymooly said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 6:30 am

    I second AG's nomination of harm a hair on somebody's head as the other phrase in the mix. There is no overlap of idiomatic meaning, but good overlap of literal meaning, structure, and prosody.

  21. Adam Roberts said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 7:16 am

    Isn't it the case that Trump has a prejudice against beards and moustaches, and won't allow any of his inner circle to sport facial hair? Maybe this is Bannon's subconscious conflating the popular 'nose on your face' saying with a sense that what Trump would really notice about somebody is not their features, but their deplorable moustache or beard?

  22. Robert Coren said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 10:39 am

    I'm pretty sure that the "fucking" in "path to fucking Trump" is a verb. ("This is how they're going to get him.")

  23. Joyce Melton said,

    January 5, 2018 @ 1:59 am

    The original phrase is actually wordplay, Plain has two meanings and either can be read, obvious or ordinary, or read them both: it (whatever) is as obvious as your nose is ordinary.

  24. AntC said,

    January 5, 2018 @ 6:03 am

    @bzfgt what the hell is a "jumo"?

    I've come looking for that too. UrbanDictionary has many definitions; but Steve Bannon's sense seems to have been added only after the brouhaha this week.

    Junior Moscow Operatives

  25. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 5, 2018 @ 12:47 pm

    Possible interference from the idiom ?

  26. Ben Zimmer said,

    January 6, 2018 @ 1:34 am

    Coming to this late… The "Junior Moscow Operatives" explanation of jumo is clearly a post-hoc backronym. The most likely explanation is that Bannon actually said jamokes rather than jumos, but it got lost in the transcription. See my Twitter thread on this starting here.

  27. Margaret Wilson said,

    January 6, 2018 @ 12:22 pm

    Joyce Melton: Plain can also mean unattractive, so a secondary meaning would be "ugly as the nose on your face."

  28. Andrew Usher said,

    January 6, 2018 @ 4:32 pm

    I am sure 'plain' doesn't have that meaning here. The idiom is used to indicate obviousness.

    I note that if we had the original recording it would be clear whether 'fucking' was a verb (gerund) or an adjective; that is here lost in transcription. If it had been composed in writing I think it'd be fair to conclude it a gerund because random intentsifiers are just not inserted in writing.

    k_over_hbarc at

  29. Margaret Wilson said,

    January 6, 2018 @ 10:58 pm

    Andrew Usher: Just like "You can't beat that with a stick" is used to indicate that something is top-notch. The whole point is that the secondary meaning makes it funny.

  30. Andrew Usher said,

    January 7, 2018 @ 9:09 pm

    If someone says "you can't beat that with a stick" with that meaning, they are being funny (perhaps unintentionally). But idioms aren't usually supposed to be funny; they aren't fossilised jokes. There's no reason to suppose that "plain as the nose on your face" has any such meaning.

  31. mollymooly said,

    January 9, 2018 @ 2:42 pm

    There's no reason to suppose that "plain as the nose on your face" has any such meaning.'

    The pun is more obvious in ""as plain as Salisbury". More modern punning similes are (1) "You lie like a rug" and (2) "Serious as cancer"

  32. Andrew Usher said,

    January 9, 2018 @ 6:17 pm

    In each of those there is a single meaning only: in 'serious as cancer' quasi-literal, in the others punning (because the literal makes no sense) – by the way 'plain as Salisbury', according to your source, uses plain=flat rather than plain=ugly/ordinary.

    But anyway I admit that there can be idioms that use double sense, as I just admitted to with 'beat that with a tick', but they are not usual, and this case doesn't seem to be one (the OP and previous commenters hadn't mentioned it).

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