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Face: Time to Face the Music

Expressions as plain as the nose on your face. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Now, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES – a VOA Special English program about American expressions. I’m Rich Kleinfeldt with expressions that include the word face.


The first is face the music. It means to accept the results of what you have done.

Here is an example from a Reuters news report: Britain’s highest court had ruled that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was legally arrested. Opponents of General Pinochet welcomed the news. One of them said, “We have waited for years for this man to face the music.”

No one is sure how the expression began. One story is that it came from a military ceremony held when a soldier was forced out of an army.

The buttons were cut from the soldier’s clothing. He was put on a horse, facing the back of the horse and led away. As he left, he faced the music of a military band and the soldiers he had served with.

Another story says the expression began in the theater. New actors, shaking with fright, were told that the only cure was to go out and face the music. The music was played by the orchestra seated in front of the stage.

A similar expression is face up to. It means to accept something that is difficult or painful. For example, a man must face up to the fact that he lied about a business deal and will lose his job. Or, a child must learn to face up to her responsibilities and complete her schoolwork.

Meeting someone face-to-face can be exciting, especially if the other person is famous. It is an expression one might use after visiting the White House and meeting the president face-to-face. Or a teacher might ask for a face-to-face meeting with the parents of a student in trouble. It means to talk to someone in person, not by telephone.

Another expression is as plain as the nose on your face. It means that something is as clear as it can possibly be.

Shakespeare used the words almost five hundred years ago for a joke in his play Two Gentlemen of Verona. Valentine secretly loves Lady Sylvia. His servant jokes that Valentine’s love for her is as hard to see as the nose on a man’s face. Of course, a man’s nose cannot be hidden.

A more recent use of the expression appeared in a report in Newsday magazine. It was about a dispute between the United States and Europe over agriculture. The United States had criticized Europeans for protecting their soybean farmers. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in return criticized the United States for its huge budget deficits. The report said the OECD seemed to be saying, “For God’s sake, it is plain as the nose on your face that you must raise taxes.”


This VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES, was written by Frank Beardsley. I’m Rich Kleinfeldt.