If brains were bombs

…would it blow your mind?

目から鼻へ抜ける
(Me kara hana e nukeru; “From the eyes to the nose”)

Definition:

Able to understand things or grasp a situation almost immediately. Quick-witted; quick on one’s feet. Highly intelligent.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 目 (me), “eye,” followed by the noun 鼻 (hana), “nose.” The directional particles から (kara) and へ (e) mark the former as the origin, and the latter as the destination, of some verb of motion. The verb in question is 抜ける (nukeru), “to come out” or “to pass through.”

Notes:

The fascinating thing about this saying is that apparently nobody knows where it comes from or what it really means, but everyone’s got a theory. One source suggests that the short distance between eyes and nose illustrates the speed of understanding at work. Another guesses that it’s a reference to the span between seeing something one wants and the breath that accompanies springing into action. Another focuses on understanding, drawing a line between visual discernment and “sniffing out” the truth of a situation.

Some versions use に (ni) in place of へ, without any change in meaning. Another version expands the saying to 目から入って鼻へ出る (me kara haitte hana e deru), “Coming in from the eyes and going out from the nose.” This may or may not affect your thoughts about the above proposed explanations.

This saying is considered synonymous with 一を聞いて十を知る.

Example sentence:

目から鼻へ抜けるほど理解が素早い真由さんですら困っているのなら、相当難しい問題なんだろう」

(Me kara hana e nukeru hodo rikai ga subayai Mayu-san de sura komatteiru no nara, soutou muzukashii mondai nan darou.”)

[“If even quick-witted Mayu is having trouble, it must be a seriously difficult problem.”]

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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