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.

  • Spitzenunterwäsche ist eine Spitzenidee.
  • Lace underwear is a top notch idea.

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…

  • Im Westflügel spielt einer vom rechten Flügel der Partei Flügel.
  • In the west wing someone of the right wing of the party is playing wing piano.

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 

  • Der Spieler spielt trotz Nasenbeinbruch weiter.
  • The player continues playing despite a fracture of the bridge of the nose.

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

  • Mein linkes Nasenloch  ist verstopft.
  • My left nose hole/nostril is stuffed.

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.

  • Mit deinen popeligen 10 Euro kriegst du in diesem Restaurant nicht mal ein Glas Wasser.
  • In this restaurant, you won’t even get a glass of water with your piddly 13 bucks.

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

  • Hör auf zu popeln.
  • Stop picking your nose.

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.

  •  Der neue macht nichts ausser Kaffee trinken und in der Nase bohren.
  • The new guy does nothing but drinking coffee and picking the nose (lit.: drilling in the nose)

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

  • Ich schnaube mir die Nase.
  • I blow my nose.
  • Ich ziehe (mir) die Nase hoch.
  • I snuffle.

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.

  • Das Essen riecht gut.
  • The food smells good.
  • Der Hund hat das Essen gerochen.
  • The dog has smelled the food.

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 – riechen – duften
  •  stink – smell – smell good/scent

Stinken is always negative.

  • Hier stinkts.
  • It stinks here.
  • Ich hätte den Kühlschrank nicht ausmachen dürfen.
    Er hat nach dem Urlaub so gestunken, dass ich kotzen musste.
  • I shouldn’t have turned off the fridge. After the vacation,
    it stank so bad, I had to vomit.

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.

  • Schatz, du müffelst ein bisschen.
  • Honey, you‘re a little stinky.

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

  • Ich bin wie ein Snack… meine Haar riecht nach/wie Erdbeeren, meine Füße nach Cheddar.
  • I’m like a snack… my hair smells of/like strawberries, my feet of cheddar.

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

  • Hier riecht’s.
  • It‘s kinda smelly here.

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.

  • Die Rosen duften.
  • The roses are smelling good.
  • In der Bäckerei hat es nach frischem Brot geduftet.
  • In the bakery it smelled of fresh bred.
    (context adds the positive aspect in English here)

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.

  • Der Kaffee riecht nach Schokolade.

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.

  • Der Gestank ist nicht auszuhalten.
  • The stench is unbearable (lit.)

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

  • Ich habe eine guten Geruchssinn.
  • I have a good sense of smell.
  • ich will hier nicht essen. Hier ist ein komischer Geruch in der Luft.
  • I don’t want to eat here. There’s a strange  smell in the air.

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

  • Puma – der neue Duft. Von Calvin Klein.
  • Cougar- the new fragrance. By Calvin Klein.

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.


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.

  • Meine Freundin und mein Bruder können sich nicht riechen.

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.

  • Ich habe die Nase voll davon,
    dass du immer meine Milch alle machst.
  • I’m sick of you finishing my milk all the time.

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.

  • Der Dieb führt die Polizei an der Nase herum.

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…

  • Meine Kinder tanzen mir den ganzen Tag auf der Nase herum.

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.

  • Irgendwann wird Maria mal so richtig auf die Nase fallen
    mit ihrem Getratsche.
  • Some day Maria will fall flat on her face
    with her gab/gossiping.
  • Zum Markt? Einfach immer der Nase nach.
  • To the market? Just go straight. (lit.: Just [go] after your nose.) …
    does the English “follow your nose” have the same meaning?
  • Bei der Entwicklung von Elektroautos hat General Motors die Nase vorn.
  • General motors has a clear edge / is the front runner in the development of electric cars.

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.