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French phrase of the day: Pointer le bout de son nez

French phrase of the day: Pointer le bout de son nez
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
This French expression does not really entail any finger pointing or nose pinching.

Why do I need to know pointer le bout de son nez?

Because it’s a common expression that is tricky to translate directly.

What does it mean?

Tap pointer le bout de son nez into Google Translate and it suggests ‘point to the tip of your nose’.

But pointer (to point) has several meanings in French, and there’s no actual finger pointing happening here.

In this particular expression pointer takes on the meaning faire apparaître – ‘reveal’.

Pointer le bout de son nez therefore means to ‘reveal the tip of one’s nose’, as in peeking through a door when you’re not completely sure if it is safe to enter. The tough equivalent in English would be ‘to pop your head round the door’.

Another equivalent is montrer le bout de son nez, which means ‘to show the tip of one’s nose’. 

Both pointer and montrer le bout de son nez refer to ‘make an appearance’, ‘showing up’, or ‘show’ – depending on the context.

However, rather than barging in the door, a person who pointe le bout de son nez is “showing themselves discreetly,” according to French online dictionary l’Internaute

Note however that sometimes people use this expression as a way to say simply ‘make an appearance’ or ‘show up’, without the element of tiptoeing or making a discreet entrance.

Use it like this

A 39 semaines, le bébé s’apprête à pointer le bout de son nez. – At 39 weeks, the baby is about to make an appearance

Carla a pointé le bout de son nez dans la salle de conférence, avec 40 minutes de retard. – Carla made an appearance in the conference room, 40 minutes late.

Lorsque le magicien tape son chapeau avec sa baguette, un lapin pointe le bout de son nez. – When the magician taps his hat with his wand, a rabbit peeks its head out.


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