Word of the Day – “die Nase”- Special

nase-germanHello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the Day or actually…today it’s more of a style special … well… not really a style special… it’s a … uhm… it’s just a special and specials are awesome. Now, we all have noses. And noses are awesome, too, because we can smell with them…okay, except if we need to pee right after that colleague had had his morning constitutional; then it’s not that awesome but anyway, specials are awesome, noses are – mostly  – awesome, together they’re super awesome and that’s why  today we’ll do a


or in German



We’ll look at the different parts and shapes, we’ll gather all activities that are related to our nose and we’ll take a look at the wealth of nose-idioms that German has to offer. Smells good?

Nose – the schematics

Let’s start with a look at the nose itself. In German it is called die Nase.
Of course both words are related and when we trace them back over centuries and centuries and more centuries we’ll finally arrive at the very super incredibly freaking ancient Indo-European root *nas- which meant… the exact same thing. Nose. Nose erprises there… haha.

At the tip of the nose, there’s the uhm … tip of the nose, which in German is called Nasenspitze. A Spitze is a more or less pointy top and it is used for a variety of things… Messerspitze , Bergspitze  and even Landspitze. Spitze is also a fabric and it is used as an adjective much like the English top notch.

All right. Left and right of the Nasenspitze are the Nasenflügel – the nose wing. Wing probably comes from the same root as wind while der Flügel actually comes from the activity you do with it.. fliegel (to fly). But although they’re not related they translate really well…

Both Nasenspitze and Nasenflügel are the end of what is called Nasenrücken – the (b)ridge of the nose.  This is basically a bone and bone is related to the German word das Bein. A few centuries back Bein still meant simply bone, but then came der Knochen and took over,  and Bein changed and means leg today… but not always. Here and there we can see left-overs of the original Bein… for example in German word for ivory…  Elfenbein, which literally means… oh my god… fairy bone?!  Jesus, this is awful…. those poor fairies. But anyway, another example for the old bone-Bein is the word der Nasenbeinbruch 

Wow, German is actually shorter for once :).
Now, a nose wouldn’t make much sense if it had no opening, no Nasenlöcher.

By the way… das Loch is not related to the Scottish Loch as in Loch Ness, but rather to the word locker… which kind of is a whole in the wall.
All right.
Now, every nose looks different and there are a million shapes but beside a normal boring nose, there are 3 special types of nose … the Knoll(en)nase, the Hakennase and the Stupsnase.
Eine Knolle is mostly used for vegetables… potatoes are a Knolle, celery is a Knolle and oddly even garlic comes by the Knolle. So a Knolle is basically a kind of ball and a Knollnase has this big round tip. Find some examples here.
Ein Haken is a hook and a Hakennase has this characteristic downward curve along the  bridge  (click here for examples) . Some  people also call it Adlernase (eagle-nose) but Hakennase is the more common name, and in English it’s also called hook nose I think. It’s kind of form over function here, though because a hook nose is exactly not the nose you can hang, say,  your coat on to. It’ll just fall down.
That’s different for the Stupsnase, which is the one that is more or less pointing upward (see here for examples) . Stups comes from the verb stupsen which I would translate as to cutely and softly poke. Cats do that their head for example. Or your loved one does it when you’re passing out at ballet. So I think Stupsnase is called Stupsnase because this kind of nose is especially fit for stupsen. And both, the nose and the word are cute, or at least I think so, and so it makes sense.
So that was the nose from the outside. Time to shrink ourselves and take a look inside. There, we’ll find mainly 3 things: Nasenhaare which is self translating, die Schleimhaut (mucous membrane), which literally means slime skin and of course plenty of boogers which in German are called Popel. I really like the word der Popel. It just sounds the part. And there are even words based on Popel… for example popelig, which is a colloquial term somewhere between small, irrelevant, weak and pathetic.

And conveniently there also the verb that describes the often ostracized act of getting ‘dem boogers out with your fingers… popeln.

And thus we’re already in the middle of the next part and I wonder where the headlin…oh there it is

Nose – related verbs

Yeah thanks… try to be a little earlier next time. Stupid headline.
Anyways, there is an alternative to popeln… no, I don’t mean blowing the nose. That won’t get the dry ones out. I mean a verbal alternative. In der Nase bohren  is often used to express that someone has nothing to do.

Now, if there are not just a few Popel in there but 2 liters of snot, we have the following two options… breathe in or breathe out

But enough with that. Let’s get to the actual purpose of the nose besides breathing and that is our sense of smell.
 The verb  to smell has no known relatives outside English and the German translation is riechen. This is related to to reek but just like to smell it works both way…   so it can mean to send out a smell as well as to receive and decode it.

Riechen is the ONLY word for to take in a smell but there are more for the sending out. Here they are in the order of pleasantness :) .. together with their past forms

Stinken is always negative.

By the way… there is actually a forth verb for sending out a certain smell and that is müffeln. It is not a good smell but it is not as strong as stinken. If you don’t hang up your laundry for to days it will start to müffeln. It’s not used that much but it might be useful as a friendly approach to telling your partner that a shower is due.

But let’s move on.
Riechen is pretty neutral and you can combine it with good and bad smell.

If it is used alone however, riechen has a negative note… kind of like to reek, although it is not as strong.

Duften finally belongs to the word family of der Dunst (mist), der Dampf (steam) or English dust. So it’s about small particles in the air… like … say… perfume, right when you spray it. This old meaning is still present in the very colloquial verduften which is to piss off. I don’t know why duften turned out to be all positive but it did.

Now, there are two main way to express how something smells….using nach and wie.

  • Es riecht/duftet/stinkt  wie/nach Zwiebeln
  • It smells like/of onions.

Both are common but the wie is more of a direct comparison while nach is more about having notes or features of a smell.

This can mean that there are hints of chocolate in there, while wie would mean that it smells just like chocolate. It is not super strict though so in a lot of cases people use them synonymously.
All right.
Now, each of those verbs of course has a noun. For stinken it is der Gestank.

I feel like Gestank is generally stronger than smell or even stench.
For riechen the noun is der Geruch.

For duften finally it is… no … not Geduft but simply der Duft.

Now you’re like “What a dumb name for a perfume. Cougars don’t particularly smell good”. But hey… they put all kinds of stuff into perfumes. Because it is about the Duftstoffe (scents/pheromones), not the pleasantness. A good mixture can get us quite “fired up” BECAUSE of the musk ox urin or  whale poop inside. And in the wrong mixture even the smoothest vanilla or pine needle extract won’t compel us to go for first base.
And that brings us right to… the idioms.

Nose – idioms

On a semi-conscious level our sense of smell has a HUGE influence on our choice
of partners. So the following idiom is not too far fetched.

This doesn’t mean that they literally cannot smell each other. It means that they
really don’t get along.

  • My girlfriend and my brother can’t stand each other.

And there are many more. A really common one for instance is

  • die Nase voll haben von

which expresses that you’re fed up with something.

Actually… being sick often implies having the nose full, so maybe that’s where this comes from.
The next one is pretty easy to visualize.

Leading someone around by the nose certainly means that you have a lot of control. And you embarrass the person. And those certainly match the translation

  • The thief gives the police a go-around.
    (He tricks them and lays out false traces and such)

The next one sounds even more painful…

Outch. But pain aside, dancing around on someones nose is somewhat disrespectful, and probably very annoying. Which is kind of close to the actual meaning… the dictionary suggested to act up on but I’d rather give a description.

  • My kids don’t listen to me, they do what they want
    and they don’t even try to hide it.

I don’t know how you’d say that in English.
The next one is also very visual…

  • Du musst mir das nicht jeden Tag unter die Nase reiben,
    dass meine Freundin gesagt hat, dass du aussiehst wie ein Model.

This literally means that we rub something under the nose of someone… so he or she can smell it all day and is constantly reminded of it.

  • You don’t have to rub it in that my girlfriend said
    that you look like a model.

Then there are a few that are based on the fact that the nose is in a somewhat prominent, forward position.

All right.
All these idioms are in active use and there are quite a few more, but I have to go to the bank later to cash that GM-check I just got.
So I only want to give you one more. A really really deep insight on the human bod.. I mean nature. Something that transcends all the other mundane sayings. Sit back, relax, let the music take you away and then read…

…  a few words of wisdom that have been passed on from generation to generation:

Wie die Nase eines Mannes,
so ist auch sein Johannes.


Yeah… you probably saw something like that coming :).
A fitting conclusion for our German Word of Day “Nasen”- Sbäschl.
I hope you had some fun and that one or the other word is of some use for you and if not then you’re at least able to solve this famous riddle here:

Es hat zwei Flügel
und kann doch nicht fliegen,
Es hat einen Rücken
und kann doch nicht liegen.
Es trägt eine Brille
und kann doch nicht sehen.
Es hat ein Bein
und kann doch nicht stehn.
Zwar kann es laufen,
aber nicht gehen.
Was ist das?


As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you know of some cool or funny nose-idioms in your own language, leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and so you next time.

for members :)

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wonderful. Ich mag dieses artikle.


Super article as ever and very helpful thanks.
I wonder if the English word ‘wiffy’ would translate for müffeln? Wiffy is a slightly comic word so perhaps not. Has müffeln anything today with Morgenmuffel?

Concerning English idioms:
In der Bäckerei hat es nach frischem Brot geduftet – you could say “there was an aroma of fresh bread in the bakery.” Aroma is always a noun (you can’t aroma) and the default sense is positive, a good or delicious smell.

Meine Kinder tanzen mir den ganzen Tag auf der Nase herum. I would say “my kids are under my feet all day.” This conveys irritation that the children are hanging around close by and won’t give you any room to get on with things. It’s a proximity metaphor, same as auf der Nase I think.

Zum Markt? Einfach immer der Nase nach. In English you say “just follow your nose.” (Just don’t turn your head though).


Der Dieb führt die Polizei an der Nase herum. – we say to pull someone’s nose, but the meaning is the same
Unter die Nase reiben – same, but we rub auf, not unter
die Nase voll haben von – have this one as well

Here are a few common in Serbian that don’t have a German counterpart:
Ich habe die Nase für…. In Serbian is used to describe a skill of being good at finding/discovering something (I have the nose for business = I can recognIze a good deal when I see one; How did you know that girl is single? I have the nose for those things)
Nicht sehen weiter als die Nase – not being able to see the bigger picture; being small-minded; not realizing what is obvious to everyone else
Es ist nach oben zu meiner Nase gekommen – It came up to (the level of) my nose – reaching a critical point. For example: It came to my nose with exams = I haven’t took any, and now there are way to many of them and I MUST do something about it immediately – otherwise I’ll be in trouble)
Die Nase erhöhen – Rising nose up – to act snobby and pretentious


Nice article! I was most interested by those idioms with the word ‘Nase’, it’s pretty interesting to state how cultures see the same thing differently :-)


Awesome article, as always. I would say that “follow your nose” doesn’t mean to go straight. It means to trust your instincts. And sometimes it literally means to follow where the smell is taking you. The fruit loops commercial comes to mind: “Follow your nose. It always knows.”


Einer frolicher Schluss über Nase ! “Johannes” eines mannes !! Ist es richitig über die Frauen ?
Ahmad , bis bald .

Daria Trehy Mathes
Daria Trehy Mathes

Hey there,

I love this blog! A few comments from my American perspective:

For the example with the police and the theif…we have the expression, “to lead someone around by the nose.” For this, I am more apt to think of a friend, romatic or not, who always has the upper hand in a relationship and has the other person doing whatever the friend wants.

For APC’s comment, I would have to say that an answer to “How do I get to…” Would be “follow your nose” and in that sense, I would think the person meant the place I want to go to is straight ahead. For “trust your instincts” I would say “follow your heart” not your nose. But maybe APC is from a different country or area.

On Igorsrb’s comment, we also say that someone “has a nose for it” meaning they have an instinct for something.

Another American expression that we have is “It’s as plain as the nose on your face.” This means the explaination is very simple, something that anyone should be able to understand or figure out for him or herself.


Ah, see, as an American I totally think that “Follow your nose” is synonymous with trust your instinct. Toucan Sam wasn’t just going straight when he was chasing those Fruitloops. (Yeah, I get he was actually following his nose, but the whole joke wouldn’t have made sense if the idea was just to go straight.)


I’m also an American, and the phrase “follow your nose” means to me literally follow the smell of something to its origin. Maybe it’s a regional thing?


This is how I would understand it, or maybe in context meaning “if you go a little farther it’s obvious where it is” (though again, I’d assume they actually meant because of the smell).


Living for this article! Keep’em coming…

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Ich habe eine Frage über die hinter folgendem Satz steckende Grammatik:

“Der neue macht nichts ausser Kaffee trinken und in der Nase bohren.”

Wieso liegt hier kein erweiterter Infinitiv vor, also kein “zu”? Sind “Kafee trinken” und “in der Nase bohren” quasi als zusammengesetzte Substantive anzusehen?

“Der neue macht nichts ausser Kaffeetrinken und In-Der-Nase-Bohren.” ?


I think because they are not verbs but nouns?


My favorite nose expression in English is the word “nosey” which means, roughly “interested in finding out what other people are doing, especially when someone is trying to hide something”. As in, “I wanted to surprise you with a new flowerbed, but our nosey neighbor asked you about all the bags of dirt in the driveway and now the surprise is lost.”

This “nosey” word gets used on news reporters sometimes… but usually just on people who gossip.
There’s another expression, “She has a nose for news”, which is used to describe a reporter who is good at finding news stories.

“She has her nose in the air” describes a woman who is not very friendly because she believes that she is better than most people, because she is higher-class or better-educated than they are. (It could be used for a man too, it’s just a woman in my example.)


“She has her nose in the air” → hochnäsig

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Offtopic: ich habe auf der Webseite vom Goethe-Institut einige Übungen nachgeschaut und mir ist diese Formulierung aufgefallen:

“Welche Ereignisse gehören deines Wissens nach außerdem noch in das Deutschland der 50er Jahre?”

Das mag in der Umgangssprache akzeptabel sein, das GI sollte ja aber Standarddeutsch unterrichten – vielleicht auch mit umgangssprachlichen Elementen, doch nicht in Aufgabenstellungen!


Ich freue mich darüber, dass du ein paar idiomatische Phrasen hinzugefügt hast. Mir ist das ganz nützlich!
Mehr bitte!
Mein Freund hat mir gesagt, dass es auf Deutsch sehr wenige Idioms gibt… Stimmt das?


There is a small typo in the sentence “The stench is unbareable (lit.)”, the adjective should be “unbearable”.


Thinking of idioms, in English something can be “right under your nose”, meaning that it’s really obvious or conspicuous. There’s also a phrase “to cut off your nose to spite your face”, which is (I think) someone overreacting and doing something that ends up harming them-self instead of who they’re angry with. For some reason that’s a really difficult phrase to explain… :/ Not sure if there’s an equivalent saying in German.

Kathy Wilson
Kathy Wilson

Thank you, reading this has given me much pleasure. I am in the process of relearning the German I knew as a child.
Alles gutte Kathy

Sent from my iPhone



Awesome, thank you!


Awesome, thank you!


Great article. The idioms are always fun to learn. No one has mentioned one of the most common “nose” idioms in the US… “Brown nose”. That is how you refer to someone who, usually insincerely, ingratiates himself to another person. For example, the student in class who, at the end of the hour, says to the teacher, “teacher, teacher, you forgot to give us our homework!” All the other students say, “f***ing brown nose!” Not a very nice expression, but common as hell! Someone who “kisses ass” is a “brown nose”…


Absolutely fantastic use of the world “piddly”, one just doesn’t see that often enough in print. Love it! As always, a great lesson :)


Hi, how do you say “some” in German? I’ve seen was, etwas, but I’m sure there are other ways. When do I use which?