Cutting off the nose to spite the face

"Cutting off the nose to spite the face" is an expression used to describe a needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem: "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face" is a warning against acting out of pique, or against pursuing revenge in a way that would damage oneself more than the object of one's anger.[1]

Contents

Origins

The phrase is known to have been used in the 12th century. It may be associated with the numerous legends of pious women disfiguring themselves in order to protect their virginity. These cases include Saint Eusebia, Saint Ebba, Saint Oda of Hainault and Saint Margaret of Hungary.[2]

The most famous[citation needed] of these cases was that of Æbbe the Younger, the Mother Superior of the monastery of Coldingham. In 867 AD, Viking pirates from Zealand and Uppsala landed in Scotland. When news of the raid reached Saint Ebba, she gathered her nuns together and urged them to disfigure themselves, so that they might be unappealing to the Vikings. In this way, they hoped to protect their chastity. She demonstrated this by cutting off her nose and upper lip, and the nuns proceeded to do the same. The Viking raiders were so disgusted that they burned the entire building to the ground.[3]

The expression has since become a blanket term for (often unwise) self-destructive actions motivated purely by anger or desire for revenge. For example, if a man was angered by his wife, he might burn down their house to punish her; however, burning down her house would also mean burning down his, along with all their combustible personal possessions.

In the 1796 edition of Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, "He cut off his nose to be revenged of his face." is defined as "one who, to be revenged on his neighbour, has materially injured himself." The word "spite" is used in the sense of revenge and "face" is used in the sense of honor.

Historical examples

  • In 2011, the enactment of new, tough immigration laws in Georgia threaten the state's agriculture industry. [4]

See also

References


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • cut off your nose to spite your face — cut off (your) nose to spite (your) face to do something because you are angry, even if it will cause trouble for you. The next time he treats me like that, I m just going to quit my job. Isn t that a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your… …   New idioms dictionary

  • cut off your nose to spite face — cut off (your) nose to spite (your) face to do something because you are angry, even if it will cause trouble for you. The next time he treats me like that, I m just going to quit my job. Isn t that a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your… …   New idioms dictionary

  • cut off nose to spite your face — cut off (your) nose to spite (your) face to do something because you are angry, even if it will cause trouble for you. The next time he treats me like that, I m just going to quit my job. Isn t that a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your… …   New idioms dictionary

  • cut off nose to spite face — cut off (your) nose to spite (your) face to do something because you are angry, even if it will cause trouble for you. The next time he treats me like that, I m just going to quit my job. Isn t that a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your… …   New idioms dictionary

  • nose — [[t]no͟ʊz[/t]] ♦♦♦ noses, nosing, nosed 1) N COUNT: oft poss N Your nose is the part of your face which sticks out above your mouth. You use it for smelling and breathing. She wiped her nose with a tissue... She s got funny eyes and a big nose.… …   English dictionary

  • Spite house — A spite house is a building generally found in an urban environment that is constructed or modified because someone that the builder feels has wronged him does not want it there. Typically built to annoy someone, in most cases a neighbor, these… …   Wikipedia

  • cut off — phrasal verb [transitive] Word forms cut off : present tense I/you/we/they cut off he/she/it cuts off present participle cutting off past tense cut off past participle cut off 1) to remove something by cutting it Cut the tops off the carrots. Why …   English dictionary

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  • Aebbe the Younger — Infobox Saint name=Saint Æbbe the Younger birth date=Unknown death date=April 2 870 feast day= April 2 venerated in= imagesize= caption= birth place= death place=Coldingham Monastery, Scotland titles= beatified date= beatified place= beatified by …   Wikipedia

  • Characters of Malcolm in the Middle — The cast of Malcolm in the Middle in season 1. (From upper left to upper right) Christopher Kennedy Masterson as Francis, Jane Kaczmarek as Lois and Bryan Cranston as Hal. (Middle) Frankie Muniz as Malcolm. (Bottom left to bottom right) Erik Per… …   Wikipedia


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