September 16, 2005

The noses of wrath

Several correspondents have pointed out that there is no reason to be puzzled by the bible passages where different English translations variously refer to noses, eyes, faces and anger (for example Exodus 5:21 -- "stink in the nostrils of Pharaoh", "a stench to Pharaoh", "odious in Pharaoh's sight", "made us stink before Pharaoh", "making the king ... hate us", "made our odour to stink in the eyes of Pharaoh", "caused us to be hated by Pharaoh", "made us reek in front of Pharaoh", etc.), because the Hebrew word אף can mean any of these things. Strong's Hebrew Bible Dictionary calls this word number 639:

properly, the nose or nostril; hence, the face, and occasionally a person; also (from the rapid breathing in passion) ire:--anger(-gry), + before, countenance, face, + forebearing, forehead, + (long-)suffering, nose, nostril, snout, X worthy, wrath.

The morfix site assigns the spelling אף (alef pe) to three different lemmas, glossed as "nose", as "(flowery) anger, wrath" and as "also, even, not even". My understanding (subject to correction -- this is not my field) is that the last one is independent, while the first two are related, with the "anger" meaning derived from the "nose" meaning along the lines suggested by Strong, and instantiated in Psalms 18:7-8 (reference supplied by Trevor at Kalebeul):

Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.
There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. [KJV]

The "anger is heavy breathing" metaphor isn't the only way to connect the nose and the face to negative emotions. Thus the English expression to "(really) get in <someone's> face" often means to confront or provoke them.

I had to really get in his face in this movie I have to be adversarial to him; I have to be at odds with him.
She called me a racist, yelling and screaming as she really got in my face.
You first told him politely that you didn't appreciate this, then one day you really got in his face about it.
When she doesn't like something, she is one to really get in your face.
They talk about what a tough disciplinarian he was, how he could really get in your face.
So they go outside and the guy steps out and asks ‘em to take their best shot; really gets in their face about it!
So I, like, totally got in his face and everything and made him take one item back to the shelf.
...when this Eurotrashy couple from probably Murray Hill tried to take our bench, Jake handed me his camera and totally got in their face and scared them away.
My mom blows up and totally gets in my face for it.
Afterwards, I stand to the side in a daze for what seemed like forever; until the prop master totally got in my face about not returning the prop to him.
I like to have fun, and I DO NOT put up with girls like that...and I will definitely get in their Face if they act that way towards me.
i completely got in his face an blew up at him
I lost it. I asked him what the fuck was the hold up and pretty much got in his face.
Needless to say, there are MANY topics which follow that pattern, where I try to keep it on-topic, or at least polite, but others repeatedly get in my face with personal attacks and compel me to respond at some point.

And to "(really) get up <someone's> nose" often means to annoy them, especially in the UK and Australia:

I'll admit, the ID people get up my nose. I didn't mind the old William Jennings Bryan Creationism half as much ...
What gets up your nose the most? Is it constant customer complaints?
If it's filthy, that's obviously going to get up your nose. But it's the design that really pisses me off.
What especially gets up my nose is the camera work, it seems to be some new style of movie making, it sucks.
It's the mundane, ho-hum everyday stuff that really gets up his nose.
somthing what really gets up my nose is when a shop advertises its specials for the week and when u go for them they dont have any left
It used to really get up my nose when legendary liberal campaigners Mike and Fran Oborski used to put the slogan "Fran again" on their leaflets.
Anyway, what seriously got up my nose about Theophanous was his holier-than-thou attitude when the allegations against him first came to light.
"I Have never had any problems with eBay In the past, but This seriously got up my nose," he said.
Even though he was supposed to be possessed, this still seriously got up my nose and kinda marred the ending a bit for me.
Jon can be so god damned stubborn sometimes that it totally gets up my nose!
The level of general ineptitude displayed in their madcap capers utterly gets up my nose.
... he completely got up my nose last night by giving us the wrong address for the pizza place he wanted to go to because he's too lazy to walk like FIVE BLOCKS to North Beach, and we ended up wandering all over the Union Square neighborhood looking for the damn restaurant, which he couldn't remember the name of.

You can find both expressions at once:

After all, it took me more than 3 years to become an activist, and that was only due to repeated persecution by the "Church" that definitely got in my face and up my nose.
Bush’s decision to resubmit nominees he couldn’t win approval for in his first term smacks of in-your-face and-up-your nose politics.
The link between rank and file trade union activists and community activists is now well established with the presentation of some of the most irreverent, in your face and up your nose presentation of trade union programs that reflect the aspirations of all workers.

There's also the use of "front" as a back-end abbreviation for confront. which some people might interpret as having something to do with getting in front of someone.

Finally, Geoff Nunberg wrote

I think of a double dactyl by Anthony Hecht that I always liked:

Juliet Capulet
Cherished the tenderest
Thoughts of a rose.

"What's in a name?" said she,
"Save that all Montagues
Stink in God's nose."

That leads to the question of whether "stink in X's nose" is another, perhaps earlier variant. Or for that matter, "stink in the porches of X's nose."

I'll leave that one for my next free coffee break.

[Update: Gabriel Nivasch wrote

Regarding the verse Exodus 5:21 and the Hebrew word "af" (aleph pei):
There's no word "af" in the verse, so the readers' coments on the word "af" are not quite relevant.

Here's a word-by-word translation:

asher        - that
hiv-ashtem   - you (pl.) have made repulsive
et           -
reicheinu    - our smell
be-einei     - in the eyes of
phar-o       - Pharaoh
uve-einei    - and in the eyes of
avadav       - his servants

So it actually says "smell in the eyes" here! Clearly a mixed metaphor. This didn't escape the classic commentators. The Ibn Ezra says that the substitution of one sense for the other can be justified by the fact that the five human senses join together at a spot above the forehead. He brings another example of a sense substitution: 'Light is sweet...' (Ecclesiastes 11:7).

Alternatively, "in the eyes of" doesn't have to be literal. It can mean "before", as in some of the translations you brought.

A better example would have been Isaiah 65:5, which definitely involves "af", and is variously translated

whiche seien to an hethene man, Go thou awei fro me, neiy thou not to me, for thou art vncleene; these schulen be smoke in my stronge veniaunce, fier brennynge al dai. [Tyndale 1395]
Which say, Stand apart, come not nere to me: for I am holier then thou: these are a smoke in my wrath & a fire that burneth all the day. [Geneva 1587]
Which say; Stand by thy selfe, come not neere to me; for I am holier then thou: these are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day. [KJV 1611]
who say, 'Keep away; don't come near me, for I am too sacred for you!' Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day. [NIV 1973]


Posted by Mark Liberman at September 16, 2005 04:42 PM