pay through the nose

This phrase dates to the 17th century. From Giovanni Torriano’s 1666 Piazza Universale:

Oft-times rich men engrossing commodities, will make one pay through the nose, whereas they might sell the cheaper.

The underlying metaphor is a bit mysterious. It may be from the idea of bleeding through the nose.

There is another 17th century slang term for money, rhino. In Greek, of course, rhino means nose. It seems logical that these two are connected, but what significance a nose has with money is simply not known. From Thomas Shadwell’s 1688 The Squire of Alsatia where rhino is used for money and rhinocerical for rich:

The Ready, the Rhino; thou shalt be rhinocerical, my Lad.

Popular folklore has it that this phrase dates back to 9th century Ireland. Viking raiders would demand tribute from the local Irish and slit open the noses of anyone who refused to pay. I do not know whether not Vikings were among the first to practice this crude form of rhinoplasty, but it is most definitely not the origin of the phrase. Eight hundred years of an underground existence is just too long to be plausible.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd & 3rd Editions)

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