Where does the phrase “to put one’s nose out of joint” come from and What does it mean?

The phrase “to put one’s nose out of joint” means: To supplant one in the affection or esteem of another; hence, to humiliate; also, to upset one’s plans.

Usually it is the arrival of a baby in the family nowadays that puts the nose of a slightly older brother or sister, hitherto greatly favored, out of joint. But it can be, and formerly generally was, an older person.

A parson or priest can have his nose put quite out of joint in his congregation by a substitute acting in his absence. And so can a doctor when a younger practitioner hangs up his shingle.

And on up or down the line.

In earliest usage the intent of the phrase was that of upsetting one’s plans, and that was what was meant by Barnaby Rich in His Farewell to Militarie Profession (1581): “It could bee no other then his owne manne, that has thrust his nose so farre out of ioynte.”

The present prevailing interpretation, however, had been reached by 1662 when the diarist Samuel Pepys had apparently become addicted to the use of the expression.

At least it occurs twice in his diary, each time, curiously, referring to the mistress of Charles II.

The first entry, May 31st of that year reads:

All people say of her (the king’s recent bride, Catherine of Braganza) to be a very fine and handsome lady, and very discreet; and that the king is pleased enough with her; which, I fear, will put Madam Castlemaine’s nose out of joynt.

The second, July 22nd, 1663, is:

He (Lord Sandwich) believes that, as soon as the King can get a husband for Mrs. Stewart, however, my Lady Castlemaine’s nose will be out of joynt; for that she comes to be in great esteem, and is more handsome than she.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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