Wise guys’ noses, eyes

Smart enough not to say “Smell you later”?

目から鼻へ抜ける
(Me kara hana he nukeru; “[In] from the eyes and out the nose”)

Definition:

Especially perceptive and shrewd. Able to quickly understand and correctly judge a situation. “Smelling out” a situation as soon as one has seen it because of a close linkage between one’s powers of sight and smell. Aside from the literal and metaphorical sensory connections, some sources cite the short distance between eyes and nose as a factor in this saying’s connotations of speedy discernment.

Breakdown:

We begin at the end with the verb 抜ける (nukeru) in sentence-final form. This verb can take on an array of meanings but in this case acts as “to come out,” synonymous with 出る (see below). In this case the verb takes no explicit subject or object at all. Instead, the particles から (kara), “from,” and (he), “to,” mark it as taking place in the span between one’s (me), “eye(s),” and (hana), “nose.”

Notes:

The may be replaced with fellow directional particle (ni). Alternately, the sentence may be changed by adding the verb 入る (hairu, “to enter”) and changing 抜ける to 出る (deru, “to go out”), in the form 目から入って鼻へ出る.

On the other hand, it is considered an error to make the eye into the subject with 目が鼻へ抜ける or to reverse the order into 鼻から目へ~.

This saying is attributed to Matsue Shigeyori’s 1645 haiku collection 毛吹草 (Kefukigusa).

Example sentence:

「今晩、僕の好きなクイズ番組に出る芸能人は皆、目から鼻へ抜けるように速く答えられるらしいから、楽しみにしています」

(“Konban, boku no suki na kuizu bangumi ni deru geinoujin wa minna, me kara hana he nukeru you ni hayaku kotaerareru rashii kara, tanoshimi ni shiteimasu.”)

[“Supposedly all of the celebrities appearing on my favorite game show tonight are really quick on the draw, so I’m looking forward to watching it.”]

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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