What Does Thumb Your Nose Mean?

Thumb Your Nose Meaning

Definition: 1) To put one’s thumb on one’s nose and wiggle the other fingers on the hand as a sign of disrespect; 2) to show contempt for someone or something.

A synonymous expression, which is more common in British English, is to cock a snook.

Origin of Thumb Your Nose

This expression originated in the first half of the 1900s.

This rude gesture was common for children to do in the past. It was a way of mocking someone. Similar antics included sticking out one’s tongue (with or without blowing a raspberry) or chanting the mocking song na na na na naaa naaa.

Nowadays, most people use this expression metaphorically. Rather than actually demonstrating the physical movement, people express derision in some other way.

Examples of Thumb Your Nose

thumbing your nose at someone

The dialogue below shows two university students who have just finished taking the college placement test for math.

Nisha: So, how did you do?

Alan: Not very well. I can’t even take college level math. I have to take a remedial class first. I might not even graduate on time because of this setback. This is silly. I should be able to take the normal classes. I’m too good for the remedial class.

Nisha: Hey, don’t thumb your nose at the remedial class. I heard the teacher is one of the best in the school. And if math is something that has been challenging for you in the past, apparently this teacher is really good at helping students grasp the fundamentals that they need to move forward.

Alan: I guess you’re probably right. There’s no need for me to think so negatively of the class. I’ll give it a chance.

i thumb my nose at youThe second dialogue shows a father and son arguing about the son’s responsibilities.

Son: I’m leaving. I’ll be back tomorrow.

Dad: Oh no you’re not! You need to clean your room and finish your homework before you do anything else!

Son: I’ll do whatever I want!

Dad: Don’t you thumb your nose at me! I’m the one in charge here.

More Examples

The excerpt is from a review of a new model of car.

  • If you can get past what it used to mean to be a Kia owner, you can thumb your nose at the people looking down theirs while you stroke the fine perforated Nappa leather upholstery of your sumptuous Sorento SXL. –New York Daily News

This excerpt is a quote about a criminal and his punishment.

  • “Mr. Bramwell’s illegal activity and his history have finally caught up with him,” state’s attorney Robert Berlin said. “Regardless of what was stolen, Mr. Bramwell repeatedly thumbed his nose at the law. He took what he wanted time and time again, and expected to avoid the consequences.” –Chicago Sun Times


The idiom thumb your nose means to literally or metaphorically show disrespect or scorn for someone or something.