Accessibility links

Breaking News

Why Do We 'Pay Through the Nose' for Costly Things?

FILE - Visitors stand near the 1939 Auto Union D-type on display at the Retromobile vintage cars show in Paris, Friday Feb. 16, 2007. The car, one of the two still in existence, could have become the most expensive car ever but the auction has been postponed. (A
Why Do We 'Pay Through the Nose' for Costly Things?
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:05:05 0:00

And now, Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English.

On this program we teach common words and expressions in American English.

Some things in life are free. Other things cost a little money. And many other things cost us a lot. On today’s program we will talk about that last group.

Things that cost a lot are expensive. We often do not mind paying a lot for high quality goods or services. Some things are just worth it. But a few things have unreasonably high price tags. I am sure we have all paid way too much for something at some point in our lives.

To describe situations like these, we often use two expressions involving body parts. Each of these expressions has a verb. But one of them is more active. It is to pay through the nose.

The other expression is to cost an arm and a leg. Here, the verb “cost” is more passive.

Both sayings mean to pay a lot – in fact, too much money – for something. For example, if you paid an unreasonably high price for the latest computer, you paid through the nose. You can also say the new computer cost an arm and a leg.

For our next example, let’s get on a plane and go on a trip!

Traveling is often expensive, especially if you do not plan ahead. When booking a flight at the last minute, it can cost you an arm and a leg. And if you stay in the best hotels in big cities like London, Rome, or Tokyo, you will most likely pay through the nose.

Now, let’s hear another example.

Wow, I love your car! What year is it?

It is a 1968 Ford Mustang.

1968?! I bet you paid through the nose to get it fixed up.

Actually, I did most of the work myself. So, that saved me a ton of money.

What about finding parts? Old car parts can cost an arm and a leg.

The car had most of its original parts. And my sister had some extra Mustang parts. So, she gave them to me. That saved money, too!

You are so lucky. Most people pay a lot for a car like this.

True. I didn’t pay the high price tag that usually comes with a 1968 Mustang. But luck only played a small part. I worked really hard on this car!

You just heard how the two “body part” expressions can be used.

But where did these expressions come from? Well, word historians are not so sure.

The saying “to cost an arm and a leg” may have come from soldiers returning from war. Those missing arms or legs were said to have paid a very high price.

To pay through the nose may come from paying taxes. In some cultures, tax collectors were said to count people’s noses to get an idea of how many people lived in a town or village. Again, this word origin is debated among word historians.

Well, that brings us to the end of this Words and Their Stories!

Remember … some English teaching products can cost you an arm and a leg. But not VOA Learning English. Our stories and videos are free. There’s no need to pay through the nose to learn English with us!

Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

price tag – n. a piece of paper or plastic that is attached to a product and that has the product's price written or printed on it : the amount of money that something costs

passive – adj. showing that the subject of a sentence is acted on or affected by the verb

ahead – adv. in, into, or for the future

origin – n. rise, beginning, or derivation from a source