I've been having a small argument with a family member. She insists "It's no skin off my teeth" is the correct saying, though I've only heard "It's no skin off my nose" before.

Which saying is more "correct" than the other? By this, I mean which came first, which is more commonly used, and which is more acceptable to use.

  • 2
    The version I hear most frequently is "It's no skin off my ass."
    – Robusto
    Apr 3, 2011 at 19:00

8 Answers 8


Writing in Google I got these results:

  • "It's no skin off my teeth" -> About 36,300 results
  • "It's no skin off my nose" -> About 449,000 results

But on the dictionary I found both and they seem to have different meanings, even if the first one uses by the skin of and not no skin off:

by the skin of one's teeth by a very narrow margin; barely : I only got away by the skin of my teeth. [ORIGIN: from a misquotation of Job 19:20: “I am escaped with the skin of my teeth” (i.e., and nothing else). Current use reflects a different sense.]

it's no skin off my nose (or off my back) informal (usually spoken with emphasis on “my”) used to indicate that one is not offended or adversely affected by something: it's no skin off my nose if you don't want dessert.

  • 3
    It would thus appear to be a case of mixed metaphors on the part of the OP's argumentative relative, that is, taking a very loose — hopefully not abusive — definition of "metaphor" to include idiomatic images.
    – Percy P.
    Apr 3, 2011 at 17:48

You are correct. By the skin of your teeth, means very close. It missed me by the skin of my teeth. Your relative seems to be confusing metaphors. Some similar confused metaphors that someone in my family uses: Don't kick a gift horse in the mouth and it's six of one seven of the other.

  • 3
    I agree. Teeth may conceivably become the dominant form eventually, but that seems unlikely. And approximately it's fair to say that as things stand, any occurences we do find are down to confusion with another closely-related expression. Apr 3, 2011 at 17:39

Worldwide and over time, no skin off my nose is overwhelmingly more common for this particular context. As a Brit, I've never come across no skin off my teeth before (unsurprisingly, considering this). But certainly exists as an 'also-ran' in American English.

Personally I've always assumed America has a higher percentage of speakers who are less than perfectly fluent in English (for whatever reasons). In a case like this the rarer alternative could simply arise through confusion with by the skin of one's teeth (idiomatic phrase meaning 'by the narrowest of margins').


The first expression of this form I can find in Google books is

no skin off my shins

from 1891 in Puck, a magazine published in New York.

Google Ngrams shows the four most common expressions currently are:

no skin off my nose,
no skin off my back,
no skin off my ass,
no skin off my teeth.

I wouldn't be all that surprised if "no skin off my ass" was the first of these forms to be spoken but the last to be written down.


Both are commonly used. If the number of results on a google search is a reliable result, it's no skin off my nose is slightly more common than it's no skin off my teeth. Personally, I prefer the nose version, because your nose has skin, but your teeth do not. In fact, the teeth version probably originated, like Alenanno suggest, by a mixture of idioms. The nose version is more canonical, that is, it is the original expression.

There are also other similar alternatives to the idiom:

It's no skin off my back

(and there are several others you can find easily in a google search that I will not mention here.)

You could use any other part of body and the meaning would probably still be understood. no skin off my elbow is very rare, but attested. If you wanted to be different than everybody else, you could say, it's no skin off my thumb web.

  • With a nod to Bringing Up Baby: "It's no skin off my intercostal clavicle".
    – PSU
    Apr 3, 2011 at 22:18
  • Slightly more common? "No skin off my nose" has ten times the number of Google hits that "no skin off my teeth" has, which makes it considerably more common.
    – calum_b
    Aug 15, 2011 at 15:21

In my mind; "No skin off my nose" appears to indicate that the speaker nervously assumes that s/he will remain unaffected (reservations), but "no skin off my teeth" seems to indicate that the speaker absolutely knows that it is utterly impossible to even be affected, since teeth skin is every bit as rare as frog fur or chicken lips.


"No skin off my nose/ass" is the "canonical" metaphor. However, as is the case with many such, there is a tendency to replace "nose" with other terms. Eg, one might easily say "no skin off my iPhone" if discussing some sort of social media scenario. The meaning is "It's no concern of mine", or "It doesn't bother me at all."

"By the skin of my teeth/ass" is an entirely different metaphor with an unrelated meaning. It means "I just barely managed to survive/succeed/whatever in the situation being discussed."

It's not surprising to find the metaphors mixed, either intentionally (for reasons only discernible in context) or accidentally (by people unfamiliar with the etymologies).


Both are fine to use however they both have different meanings. As for commonality, it completely depends on the situation and where you live. I don't hear either one that frequently.

No Skin off My Nose is the equivalent of "I don't care, doesn't bother me". It can also be used passively aggressively (trust me on this one) or nonchalantly.

Skin of My Teeth commonly refers to barely managing to do something or to marginally (and seemingly impossibly) accomplish something i.e. escaping from something. It usually used in a hyperbolic fashion.

In NYC it isn't used very often except by the older generations (think born in the 30s - 60s)

According to wikipedia (and a few other sites I found but this one is easier to site) the phrase "Skin of my teeth" is the older meaning coming from the Book of Job from the Christian Holy Bible.

I am not finding a concrete source of where the phrase "Skin of my nose" comes from but I did find this site that, while doesn't cite (see what I did there), has an explanation that is amusing and a little alarming.

In sixteenth century England a clandestine group of cabbage worshipers inhabited London's seamier neighborhoods, practicing a variety of bizarre rituals involving cabbage—including coleslaw, sauerkraut, and the newly invented Reuben sandwich, which had been banned by the government as being subversive ever since the visiting Count Halitosis had disgraced himself by splattering corned beef on the tablecloth at a state banquet.

With informers everywhere, it became common among the cabbage cult to cut a very small hole in the doors of the places of worship, so that the high priest could peer through and verify the identity of those wishing to enter. However, electric lights being unknown, it was difficult to make out the faces of people standing outside in the dark, so another method was devised.

Followers who desired entrance to the service were to make a small mark, like a birthmark, on the left side of their nose, and then thrust their proboscis through the hole in the door. If the mark was missing, the priest would know that the nose did not belong to a true believer, and he would take a sharp paring knife and slice a long strip of skin from the nose. Understandably, the King's guardsmen came to be very wary of taking an assignment which could result in "skin off my nose", and eventually the phrase came to mean anything costly or painful. Those who had suffered the indignity of having their noses pared like an apple were, of course, subsequently easy to spot walking down the street, and peasants would tease them about the wisdom of "sticking their noses where they didn't belong".

Eventually the secret of the mark on the nose was discovered by spies who managed to infiltrate the cult, but the King, in his Divine Wisdom, refused to permit his guardsmen to stoop to such silliness, and proclaimed that any of his men wishing to keep their heads attached to their shoulders would do well to "keep their noses clean".

By Michael Dunkerton.

  • 2
    "No skin off my teeth" is a different idiom from "by the skin of my teeth".
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 22, 2016 at 21:07

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