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Pay thru the nose

Posted by James Briggs on June 27, 2003

In Reply to: Pay thru the nose posted by ESC on June 27, 2003

: : What is the meaning and origin of the saying - pay thru the nose?

: I always think of Jack Nicholson getting his nose cut in "Chinatown" when I hear this expression. To access previous discussion, search "nose pay" in the archives. A couple of theories:

: Pay Through the Nose. Be charged an exorbitant price. Why nose? One superstition is that this kind of paying is as irksome as a nosebleed. Another tale has it that the Danes levied a tax on the Irish in the 9th century, and that anyone who failed to pay it was punished by having his nose slit. In any event, we find Andrew Marvell wrting in 1672 (in 'The Rehearsal Tranposed'(: "Made them pay it most unconsciously and through the Nose."
: From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers.

To pay through the nose is to pay an exorbitant price for something. I have found a couple of possible origins, one of which I reckon to be a little "anaemic"; it goes as follows. As early as the 17th century "rhino" was slang for money; "Rhinos" is Greek for "nose". Noses bleed and someone who pays over the odds can also be said to bleed.
The other explanation goes back to the days of the Danish invasion of Britain. 9th century Danes were particularly strict with their tax laws, especially where "foreigners" were concerned. They levied a particular tax against the Irish called the "Nose Tax"; failure to pay was met by harsh punishment - the debtor had his nose slit open.
The expression only seems to have come into English at the end of the 17th century and so the "anaemic" version is the most likely to be correct.