Despite their faces…

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Jennifer Rubin, "Has Trump’s family abandoned him? I’m answering your questions", WaPo 4/24/2024:

Q: Are Republicans the party of no? Why can't Republicans say yes? Instead of getting a border deal in exchange for Ukraine funding, they got nothing.

A (Jennifer Rubin, Opinion Columnist):
Yup. They are the masters at cutting off their noses despite their faces. Remember that they really do not want to solve the problem. They want an ongoing crisis they can use against Biden. This is all to deny Biden a "win." Their obligations to their constituents and to their oaths evaporate in the face of performance politics.

Other have taken the same path,  e.g.

Chris Cillizza, CNN 2/12/2018: The point here is that Jordan’s carping is sound and fury, signifying not much. If congressional Republicans managed to throw Ryan out, it would be cutting off their noses despite their faces.

There's an entry in the Eggcorn Database, of course.

The obligatory screenshot:

[h/t Russinoff]



  1. KeithB said,

    April 24, 2024 @ 3:07 pm

    I don't know that "to spite" makes any more sense.
    In any case, the Republicans should try a new tact.

  2. Julian said,

    April 24, 2024 @ 4:47 pm

    If they're happy to flaunt the will of the people through their Supreme Court majority, they'll have no qualms about flaunting the advice of pedantic grammarians.

  3. AntC said,

    April 24, 2024 @ 4:57 pm

    sound and fury, signifying not much

    If you're going to almost-quote Shakespeare, why not get the full mileage out of it and pack in an insult to the fury-merchant?:

    … It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

  4. AntC said,

    April 24, 2024 @ 5:02 pm

    I don't know that "to spite" makes any more sense.

    spite the verb has rather fallen out of use, it's true. But all those meanings, esp. sense 1, seem spot-on.

  5. JPL said,

    April 24, 2024 @ 7:58 pm

    Are there typically differences in the degree of aspiration of the "t-" in the word "to" in contexts like the following?
    1) He directed the camera to his face, not away from it.
    2) He wanted to spite his face, so he cut off his nose.
    3) It was a case of cutting off his nose to spite his face.

  6. AntC said,

    April 24, 2024 @ 9:52 pm

    @JPL, in your 1), 'to' is a preposition, not forming an infinitive (which usage wiktionary calls a "particle"). Furthermore the sentence is contrasting 'to' vs a different preposition 'away' so would get contrastive stress.

    The infinitive 'to' usually gets reduced stress/the vowel relaxed to schwa. wiktionary alleges different pronunciations depending whether there's a consonant or vowel following; also whether there's a vowel preceding — as from 'camera'.

    Your 3) I might reduce the 'to' more than in 2), because 3) is a stock phrase that would come out all in a rush. 3) is the 'in order to' usage of 'to'.

  7. Cervantes said,

    April 25, 2024 @ 6:42 am

    I'd say that like "free reign," it's another of those eggcorns that actually makes some sense, and might even seem more like what the speaker means than the original. After all, cutting off your nose is not good for your face, whether you do it specifically to spite said object or for some other reason.

  8. Ed Rorie said,

    April 25, 2024 @ 8:23 am

    Is The Post using Grammarly to save money on copyediting?

  9. KeithB said,

    April 25, 2024 @ 8:24 am

    Wait, is it "to spite your face" or "in spite of your face". The latter makes much more since, since I don't see why I would do something because I was angry with my face.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    April 25, 2024 @ 8:48 am

    Keith — it is "to spite one’s face". Re. " I don't see why I would do something because I was angry with my face", that is exactly the point that the metaphor seeks to make — those who choose to cut off their noses to spite their faces are almost invariably carrying out a pointless and self-destructive act.

  11. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 25, 2024 @ 11:52 am

    FWIW, the earliest usage of the expression I can quickly find in the google books corpus (with the wording "do not pull off your nose to spite your face, or pluck out your eye to make your neighbour a blinkard") is from a 1796 English translation of _Princess Coquedoeuf and Prince Bonbon, a History As Ancient As It Is Authentic_. The English translation is from French, and the French is in turn supposedly "Translated from the Neustrian Tongue" by M. DEGBACOBUB, but other sources suggest that may be a false claim or deliberate literary conceit, and that it was an original composition (_La Princesse Coque d'Oeuf et le prince Bonbon_) by Marguerite de Lubert, done circa 1743.

    I wouldn't be surprised if this could be antedated, but to the extent this is the vector into English I wonder if it's a calque of an expression that was already well-known in French or if de Lubert deliberately devised a novel and weird-sounding expression for literary effect.

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    April 25, 2024 @ 1:09 pm

    I’ve not looked in the Google Corpus, JWB, but the earliest refefence that I can find is in Sir Thomas Elyot The deceyte of women, to the instruction and ensample of all men yonge and olde, newly corrected (circa) 1557, which reads (in part) "He that byteth hys nose of, shameth hys fate [misprint for face], and so it is wyth me, for yf I shame my wife: I shame my selfe".


  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 25, 2024 @ 1:47 pm

    @Philip Taylor: Thanks for that link. On the one hand, one limitation of simple corpus searches is that they may not capture earlier instances of a phrase from before the current spelling of particular words had stabilized. On the other hand, the pre-1796 examples at that link don't use the verb "to spite" under any spelling, although they are expressing a similar concept. Both the history of the concept and the history of how it ended up with one specific fixed verbal formulation are of potential interest. OTOH, the notation in the linked discussion that there were comparable sayings in various wordings in Middle French tends to suggest that de Lubert was probably not being particularly innovative in her French text that underlay the 1796 English translation I found.

  14. ktschwarz said,

    April 25, 2024 @ 2:06 pm

    Delighted to see linked from here, it's a great site. The Phrase Finder is another good one: its page on "Cut off your nose to spite your face" says that " 'revenged of his face' was the common form in the 18th century. It isn't until the mid 19th that we find the 'spite' version we use now. " It also quotes another proverb on the lines of injury to the face from 1562:

    If there be any, as I hope there be none,
    That would lese [lose] both his eyes to lese his foe one,
    Then fear I there be many, as the world go'th,
    That would lese one eye to lese their foes both.

    I'd count that as the same moral but not the same expression, since it doesn't have the nose.

  15. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 25, 2024 @ 3:17 pm

    The difference is not just in eye v. nose, but how the nose-cutter's own face came into it. Your own face is not an obvious stand-in for your foe/enemy/neighbor. In the context of the somewhat 1557 bit by Elyot quoted by Philip Taylor, that's not a problem, because of the obvious allusion to Ephesians 5:28 (in KJV ""So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself"). But even the Scriptural injunctions preaching love of ones enemies don't consistently push that same you-twain-are-one-flesh point.

    I have heard the theme of that 1562 proverb quoted by ktschwarz in a narrative (maybe it was said to be an old Slavic tale, although don't take that to the bank) where a genie or some such magical figure offered a peasant anything he wanted on the understanding that the peasant's neighbor (whom he loathed) would receive double the same benefit, whereupon the peasant asked to be made blind in one eye.

  16. Andreas Johansson said,

    April 26, 2024 @ 12:51 am

    @J. W. Brewer

    There's no language known as "Neustrian". Neustria was approximately what's now northern France, and its main language was, depending on where you draw the lange, late Latin and/or early French.

  17. Andreas Johansson said,

    April 26, 2024 @ 12:51 am

    I'm not sure how I mangled "line" into "lange".

  18. Yves Rehbein said,

    April 27, 2024 @ 10:37 pm

    Is this a Voldermort reference?

    In German phrasims, to have the nose full can mean to have enough, be fed up (stuffed). I remember only faintly having learned French rather speaks of having enough on their back, "en avoir plein le dos" (compare dorsum). So not only is amputation too drastic a measure against cold infection, the analogy wouldn't hold in French. However, a pro pos stuffed, to be "verschnupft" is a little more difficult to place because it has been argued that snobbishness could be related. The important facts:

    > Even an approximate age of the noun snob is beyond reconstruction, for no citation of it predates 1776.

    > […] The connection between cutting/snapping/ sniffing and stupidity is not immediately obvious, but one can be called a fool for so many reasons that guessing would be unprofitable.

    —Anatoly Liberman,

    Guess I have to cut it off—snuff it—and leave it at that?

    > To complicate matters, Latin emungo means “to blow one’s nose” and “to cheat,” while in French we find moucher “wipe somebody’s nose; to snub, give one snuff” (a common combination in European languages) and (!) to “snuff a candle”!

    —Anatoly Liberman,

    > It is not clear why so many sl- words refer to things slippery and sleazy, but the initial group sn– often makes people think about an active nose. For instance, regardless of Dutch snoepen “to eat (on the sly),” the etymon of snoop (originally an Americanism), the English verb suggests nosing around.

    > […] Snub is said to be of Scandinavian origin. Among its cognates we find East Frisian (which in this context means “Low German”) snubbe “to snub, chide,” originally “to snip off the end of a thing.”

    —Anatoly Liberman,

    Oh snap!

  19. ktschwarz said,

    May 29, 2024 @ 11:53 am

    It may be too late for anyone to see, but I'd like to add that, while useful, isn't all the author's own work, and it could be greatly improved by citing its sources. The page about "cut off one's nose", for example, appears to be based directly on the OED3's entry under nose (which in turn drew on the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs); the quotations are from there, and the specific additional phrase in the definition "usually with the implication that the person who carries out this action knows its likely consequences beforehand" is copied from there, with the wording slightly reshuffled. Pascal Tréguer added more context on the quotation authors, and a couple of variants to the French quotation, but he didn't discover most of the quotations himself, and it wouldn't have cost him anything to say so. (He *does* make a lot amount of original discoveries himself when he's working on local or recent expressions that aren't in the big dictionaries.)

    For comparison, Dave Wilton's Wordorigins Big List cites all his sources, including dictionaries and references. It's not hard to do!

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