laying a finger aside one's nose

Discussion in 'English Only' started by kayokid, Aug 23, 2006.

  1. kayokid

    kayokid Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hello. Can anyone tell me the meaning of the gesture which is described in "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by Clement Clark Moore? The gesture in question is done by St. Nicholas just before he goes up the chimney after delivering presents to the occupants of the house. "...He (St. Nicholas) spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, and filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk, and laying his finger aside his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;...
    Many thanks in advance!
  2. french4beth

    french4beth Senior Member

    I'm not positive, but perhaps it's similar to the game charades - when a person guesses what you're trying to explain, you point to your nose.
  3. TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Have you ever seen the movie The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford as two con men? Their characters often exchanged a little sign where one would lay his forefinger aside his nose and swipe it forward. It was like an "all clear" signal, an acknowledgement between the two of them of the secret they were in on. That's kind of how I imagine the St. Nicholas gesture, but I have no idea if it's correct. :)

  4. kayokid

    kayokid Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hello, Elisabetta. Yes, I am quite familiar with the movie and the sign that they used. I wanted to mention that in my original post but decided to omit it. I agree with your analysis of the meaning in the movie. I was wondering if it could also be a sign that they "pulled something off, did something practically impossible or magical" and through this interpretation we get closer to the meaning in the poem. Any thoughts?
  5. TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Hi, kayokid. I'm basically speculating! Here are some other folks' thoughts about possible meanings for the gesture from The Sting. At least one person notes its similarity to St. Nick's gesture. So far, my Google searches haven't turned up anything more definitive.

  6. kayokid

    kayokid Senior Member

    English, USA
    Many thanks, Elisabetta. Very nice discussion which I had not come across. I got the "magical" interpretation from another site but it looks like a variety of meanings are possible...
  7. Defy_Convention Member

    English - United States
    This question had me off looking at my family's Christmas books! We have a delightfully-illustrated copy of Jolly Old Santa Claus with the following illustration (this one taken from
    While this book doesn't have the poem, this is precisely the gesture I've always associated with "laying a finger aside of his nose" probably because it's one of the first images of St. Nicholas I ever was exposed to.
  8. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    The gesture is quite common among my peers.
    I haved always taken it to be a physical pun.
    We knows (nose) what others do not.

  9. DavyBCN Senior Member

    UK - English

    It has had a totally unrelated meaning during my life, of a gesture which you use to signify to others that you share some secret information which should not be shared.
  10. TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    That may in fact be the meaning of St. Nick's gesture -- and it seems the most likely one to me. ;)

  11. Kevman Senior Member

    Phoenix, Arizona
    USA English
    Despite its similarity to other nose-touching gestures, I've always assumed that St. Nick's gesture was idiosyncratic. I've never gotten it to work myself, but I thought touching his nose like that and nodding were just part of what he had to do in order to rise up the chimney.
  12. kayokid

    kayokid Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hello, Kevman. I have found websites that support your line of thinking (thus the "magical" reference, alluded to earlier).
  13. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    I've always thought it was a bit of a secret warning, e.g. "You know the real truth, and I know the real truth, but we can't reveal it." It's a signal of a secret shared, very theatrical. Though for the life of me, I don't know where I picked up this answer... so take it with a grain of salt.
  14. honestashol New Member

    Does anyone remember Danny Kaye's "The Inspector General"?

    There is a scene where he sings with the ghosts of other instector generals about how he should do the job and the gyst is he should "... be arrogant (with a fist raised high), be elegant (with a gay flick of the wrist), be smart (with his finger to the side of his nose)."

    It seemed to imply general cunning and knowing something others didn't.

    By the way, the musical punchline was:

    Kaye "Give them the fist!" (with a fist raised high)
    Ghosts "Give them the fist!" (with a fist raised high)
    Kaye "Give them the wrist!" (with a gay flick of the wrist)
    Ghosts "Give them the wrist!" (with a gay flick of the wrists)
    Kaye "Give them the finger!" (with his finger to the side of his nose)
    Ghosts "Be smart!" (with their fingers to the side of their noses)
  15. Copacetic Member

    Touching the side of the nose is like a giving a wink. It is like a signal of a shared secret.

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