What Does Don’t Cut Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face Mean?

Don’t Cut Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face Meaning

Definition: Don’t overreact and do something in anger that is more harmful to you than to others.

Origin of Don’t Cut Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face

This expression first appeared in Latin in the 1200s. It didn’t appear in English with its modern phrasing until the 17th century. One of the first matches to the modern phrasing was in Gedéon Tallemant des Réaux’s recounting of the history of France:

  • Henry IV understood very well that to destroy Paris would be, as they say, to cut off his nose to spite his face.

However, versions of the proverb with much the same meaning appeared as early as the 16th century.

People use this expression as a caution against being self-destructive when seeking revenge.

Examples of Don’t Cut Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face

cutting off your nose to spite your faceIn this example, two friends are quietly discussing the infidelity of one of their boyfriends.

Cassie: Hey! What’s the matter?

Rebecca: I’m so furious right now. I just found out that Chad has been cheating on me.

Cassie: Oh no! That’s terrible. Are you going to break up with him? How did you find out?

Rebecca: His other girlfriend introduced herself to me. He doesn’t know that I know yet. And yes, to answer your question, I am going to break up with him. But that’s not all I’ll do!

Cassie: Uh oh. What do you mean by that?

Rebecca: I’m going to break all the windows in his car!

Cassie: That sounds like a bad idea. You guys share that car, and it’s actually in your name, so it’s more your car than his. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

Rebecca: Fine! I’ll think of something else.

cut your nose off to spite your faceIn the dialogue below, two men are discussing a problem at work.

Antonio: I’m not sure what to do. My coworker and I are supposed to work on every project together. The problem is that I always do all of the work. He never does anything.

Igor: Yeah. That’s frustrating.

Antonio: I’ve been complaining about him to everyone who will listen.

Igor: Hmmm. I’m not sure that’s the best idea. You don’t want to cut off your nose to spite your face.

Antonio: What do you mean?

Igor: If you complain about him to everyone, they might just think you’re a gossip, and unprofessional. What you should do instead is gather proof and then just show it to your boss, and your boss alone.

Antonio: That’s a good idea.

Igor: That way, you’ll still look professional, and it will solve your problem.

More Examples

This excerpt is about people wanting to stop one medical procedure inadvertently stopping many other medical procedures that help many people.

  • “We’re sort of cutting off our nose to spite our face,” said Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. “The most effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to prevent a woman from having to make that horrible decision about whether to keep a child or not is access to family planning.” –USA Today

This example is about an actor whose nanny accused him of sexually harassing her. The author wonders if he is hurting his reputation by attacking the woman’s character in public.

  • But I wondered if he cut off his nose to spite his face when he published an angry and self-righteous tirade on the Huffington Post, saying, “a former employee is demanding my wife Sheryl and I pay her $1.5 million by the end of the week or she will accuse us both of a vicious laundry list of false terribles. It is an attempt to damage and humiliate not only my wife and me, but our two young sons as well.” He added that he wasn’t going to pay her ” ‘Hush money’ to just go away. . . . No one intimidates my family.” –LA Times


The saying don’t cut off your nose to spite your face means don’t hurt yourself in order to hurt someone else.