I was inclined to believe that the expression "stuck-up", meaning staying aloof from others because one thinks one is superior, had its origins with somebody's nose stuck (up) in the air and yet, Etymonline mentions nothing of the sort but limits itself to saying:

O.E.D: stuck "unable to go any further," 1885, past participle adjective from stick (v.). Colloquial stuck-up "offensively conceited, assuming an unjustified air of superiority" is recorded from 1829.

The Free Dictionary is not exactly helpful either

T.F.D stuck-up adj. Informal. snobbishly conceited. [1820–30]

Was I mistaken?

  • Did the phrase have one's nose stuck (-) up in the air precede the adjective, stuck-up?
  • Where did the term stuck-up originate—the UK or The USA?
  • More nosey Britishisms with Origin of "Toffee-nosed"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 29, 2014 at 0:36
  • 2
    Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary gives a reference to "stick, v (35)" which contains a definition "35.f. To claim or give oneself out to be." with example usage from 1881 of "I never knew any good come of those fellows who stick up to be everything wonderful." This appears like it could be a related meaning, although given the dates likely deriving in the wrong direction...
    – Jules
    Aug 29, 2014 at 2:38
  • 1
    Finally!!! Something other than a "what's the word for this?" or ELL.SE question! Aug 29, 2014 at 15:36
  • 2
    I always assumed it rather more vulgar, having one's head (or other appendage) "stuck up" one's own backside.
    – Richard
    Aug 29, 2014 at 20:17
  • Is it not possible that "stuck up" refers to stiffness of manner, a rigid formality and inhibition of physical and verbal expression associated with haughtiness and snobbery?
    – Steve G
    Jan 2, 2018 at 12:57

7 Answers 7


Past Definitions of Stuck-Up

The earliest definition of stuck-up that I’ve been able to find is in John C. Hotten, A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words, Second Edition (1860), published in London, which offers this very narrow meaning:

STUCK-UP, “purse-proud”—a form of snobbishness very common in those who have risen in the world. Mr. Albert Smith has written some amusing papers on the Natural History of Stuck-up People.

John R. Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms, Fourth Edition (1877), published in Boston, has this:

Stuck-up. “”Stuck-up people” is a term applied to the proud and haughty.

J.S. Farmer & W.E. Henley, Slang and Its Analogues, volume 7 (1904), has a much lengthier treatment:

Stuck-up adj. phr. (colloquial).—Conceited ; purse-proud ; assuming airs, dignity, or importance. Also (rare) as subs.

18[?] Betsy Bobbet, 272. She was dressed up like a doll, but she didn't act stuck-up a mite.

1839 DICKENS, Nicholas Nickleby, ix. 'He's a nasty stuck-up monkey, that's what I consider him,' said Mrs. Squeers, referring to Nicholas. 'Supposing he is,' said Squeers, 'he's as well stuck-up in our schoolroom as anywhere else.'

1847 A. SMITH. The Natural History of Stuck-up People [Title].

[later citations omitted]

A search for the Betsy Bobbet quotation reveals that it appears in an 1872 volume by Marietta Holley titled My Opinions and Betsy Bobbet’s.

And Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Eighth Edition (1984) has this brief entry:

stuck-up Unjustifiably 'superior'; offensively conceited or pretentious: coll[oquial]: adj. 1829 (OED)

First Occurrence of Stuck-Up

In a Google Books search, the earliest instance of stuck-up in the relevant sense is from Horace Smith, “The Steam-boat from London to Calais,” in Gaeities and Gravities, volume II (1825):

”I believe,” said the voluble dame, looking round with a gracious and comprehensive smile, “I believe we are all butchers’ ladies.” “I believe we ar’n’t no such a thing, Ma’am,” cried a corpulent female with an oleaginous face, while trying to turn up her pug-nose, which however was kept tolerably steady by a triple chin, she waddled away to another part of the vessel. “Well, I’m sure! Marry, come up! Hoity toity!” burst from the coterie with which she had disclaimed carnificial affinity ; “here’s airs for you!” … “I say Croak, who is that stuck-up fat thing that just left us?" " Don't you know her?" inquired Croak, in a whisper ; " why, that's Mrs. Dip, the great tallow chandler's lady, of Norton Falgate." " Well, suppose she is, she need'n't turn her nose up at us : if we were to call upon her on melting-day, we might have something to turn up our noses at, I fancy, ha ha ha!”

The odd thing here is that the standard form of the expression for using the upward thrust of one’s nose to express superiority or disdain—and the form that appears three times in the quotation—isn’t “stick up one’s nose”, but “turn up one’s nose.” For example, in John Braithwaite, The History of the Revolutions in the Empire of Morocco (1729):

Because he [the son of “a great Alcaide”] was a great Man's Son, Mr. Russel gave him a Moydore, or some such Matter, by the Advice of Abdelzack and Perez ; but he [the son] turned up his Nose, and looked upon it with great Contempt : So that Mr. Russel was advised to increase it, lest he should be able to bring some Interruption to his Journey.

Ultimately I’m not persuaded that the real-world thing that "stuck up" originally referred to was people's noses stuck up in the air. One problem with that theory is that the earliest Google Books search match for the phrase "stuck her [or his] nose up" or “stuck up his [or her] nose” comes only a decade before the 1825 first-occurrence date for stuck -up (cited above). Under the circumstances, if the point of “stuck up” was to refer to people’s haughtily elevated noses, wouldn’t it have made more sense to use the phrase “turned-up” instead of “stuck-up,” given that “turn up one’s nose” was the established idiom for such nasal posturing?

Early Occurrences of Stuck-Up Noses

The first (fictional) human being who is described as sticking his nose up in a Google Books match is from Elijah Sabin, Life and Reflections of Charles Observator (1816):

Jack Upstart drew a thousand dollar prize and set up merchandizing. He despised farmer A's boys, and would stick up his nose at them with disdain. He looked on their frocks and home-made dress as badges of meanness ; and thought his long watch-chain and wide ruffle, authorized him to call them mean dogs.

The second is from A Scientific Farmer, "Fattening Hogs with Boiled Food," in The New England Farmer (May 25, 1831):

1 tried to persuade the owner to adopt my plan with this hog, and feed him on corn meal boiled, but be soon stuck up his nose at the idea of making 'hasty pudding for his hogs!' As my effort to persuade him was ineffectual, he finally made me an offer of his hog, to try the plan myself, confident, as he said, that I would find it altogether unsuccessful.

The third is from Mary H. Pike, Ida May: A Story of Things Actual and Possible (1854):

O, let her go on! Let her! She better try it! She better stick up her nose at me!

And the fourth is from Mary C. Ames, "His Two Wives," in Every Saturday (May 9, 1874):

'Twa'n't no use! I can't make no company of no such folks. My! Mister Cyril, jest you think! she actelly stuck up her nose at my dinner! though I'd cooked many a dinner for quality at Squire Monteith's sech as she could never think of bein'. 'T'was the forks—the steel forks—that turned her atomic.

But if stuck-up didn’t originally refer to the stuck-up nose, what did it refer to? I don’t have a good answer for this question, but I can at least observe that in the early 1800s the phrase “stuck up” most often appeared in the context of placards, proclamations, and other notices displayed in conspicuous public locations. Perhaps the original “stuck-up” person was someone who put himself or herself on prominent display for the inferior masses to study and admire.

  • Superb answer, and a surprising one too. I wish you could emphasize more that turn up (one's noses) was a fixed idiom/expression before anyone thought of saying to stick up one's nose, I think it's easy to miss that piece of information. And your answer lends credibility to @Brillig's, hypothesis.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 29, 2014 at 4:35
  • I think you've demonstrated that stuck up did not refer to noses, but that really leaves a question of where it did come from. Your theory (last paragraph) seems as good as any; however, looking at the early definitions, I wonder if there isn't also simply an association with moving "up" the social ladder. Someone who is stuck up is someone who refuses to associate with anyone of lower class. E.g., in the preface to The Natural History of Stuck-up People, note "climbing up staircases of moneybags" and "their present elevation".
    – AmeliaBR
    Aug 29, 2014 at 21:01
  • Yours is the most thorough answer, it matches and exceeds my own own findings on the subject.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 1, 2014 at 18:54
  • Could it be far more vulgar? When do we first consider people to have 'sticks up their bums'. This formation would explain the past tense. Having had it stuck there, rather than doing the sticking, as the nose reference would prefer. We do have the Shakespeare line about being "hoist on one's own petard", which would presumably require an implement of hoisting, more likely a stick than a rope. So if that is the image that seeks, it is already established then. Sep 4, 2014 at 19:25
  • ngram suggests 'a stick up' arises about 1820 but 'with a stick up' starts around 1925. I don't know how to put that together. But the former comes before 'stuck-up'. Sep 4, 2014 at 19:32

According to Etymonline expressions using the concept of holding the nose up in the air suggesting superiority or disdain are used from 1570. Probably other expressions like stick one's nose up in the air and stuck-up are derived from this usage:


  • To turn up one's nose "show disdain" is from 1818 (earlier hold up one's nose, 1570s); similar notion in look down one's nose (1921).

Stick one's nose up in the air:

  • Fig. to behave in a haughty manner. Jeff stuck his nose up in the air and walked out. Don't stick your nose up in the air. Come down to earth with the rest of us.

Source: McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs.

Ngram AmE, Ngram BrE show similar usage of 'stuck-up' since the beginning of the 19th century both in US and UK.

From: the Phrase Finder:

  • 'Stuck-up' had emerged a century or so earlier (thanToffee-nosed ), and is found in Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, 1839:

  • 'He's a nasty stuck-up monkey, that's what I consider him,' said Mrs. Squeers.

From The Edinburgh Review or critical journal for october 1829....january 1830

  • They are comparatively, and without disparagement of their vast and almost superhuman merit, stuck- up gods and goddesses.
  • 1
    No date for "Don't stick your nose in the air" but if I could upvote twice, I would just for the Charles Dicken's quote.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 28, 2014 at 21:21
  • I think yours is a fine answer but after doing some research of my own, I must award Sven's answer because it matches what I have found, that turn up one's nose is the older expression, and that stuck up is not directly derived from that expression.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 1, 2014 at 18:52
  • 1
    @Mari-Lou A, You're pushing hard for this theory, but obviously to turn up one's nose is a one-time thing whereas to have your nose stuck up is constant, hence why snobs are called stuck up rather than turn up, obviously. And turned up wouldn't work since its implies a 3rd party doing the turning to them rather than their own wills. Sep 5, 2014 at 22:33
  • @developerwjk Obviously? If I say I have researched into it, it's because I have. Ngrams
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 6, 2014 at 1:44
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA - I understand, but you shouldn't feel upset...it is part the "the game". I, too, have my hostile players to cope with...so annoying.
    – user66974
    Jun 22, 2016 at 15:25

There does not seem to be a definite answer here, but it seems that most people are generally satisfied that stuck up may have come from the idea of sticking one's nose up.

However, I hope I can provide support for the idea that the phrase stuck up could easily have come from a meaning that has nothing to do with a person's nose.

Possibly stuck up came from ticket / etiquette

Etiquette is simply (and literally) 'a ticket' (in fact the English ticket, which originally meant any note, memorandum, voucher, etc., comes from this source). The word is derived from the French estiquer, meaning 'to stick'. The first rules prescribed by authority to be used in social or official life were 'stuck' up on the walls for all to see and follow. Word Origins

ticket (n.) 1520s, "short note or document," from a shortened form of Middle French etiquet "label, note," from Old French estiquette "a little note" (late 14c.), especially one affixed to a gate or wall as a public notice, literally "something stuck (up or on)," from estiquer "to affix, stick on, attach," from Frankish *stikkan, cognate with Old English stician "to pierce," from Proto-Germanic *stikken "to be stuck," stative form from PIE *steig- "to stick; pointed" (see stick (v.)). Online Etymology Dictionary

I'd like to emphasize the that etiquette meaning ticket comes from estiquer meaning to stick, because at one time all tickets were stuck up on walls for the community to read and, therefore, a ticket and something stuck up on a wall meant much the same thing.

So back when official rules and social rules were stuck up for all to read, the term stuck up could very reasonably have evolved to describe anything very superior and/or haughty, above the level of normal people. A person could be stuck up if that person were to behave as if they had, or actually had, official or social superiority.

Shakespeare did not specifically use stuck up to imply "conceited" to my knowledge but he did use some things that meant basically the same thing. For instance, in Much Ado About Nothing Act I Scene I (1598) the first words from Beatrice are:

"I pray you, is Signior Mountanto returned from the wars or no?" MAAN Act 1 Sc 1

where "montanto" is "a strike or jab made in an upward direction" Collins English Dictionary - a "sticking" in an upward direction, and the meaning of calling Benedict Mountanto is to imply that Benedict is conceited, as confirmed when Beatrice in her next words says:

"He set up his bills here in Messina and challenged Cupid at the flight." MAAN Act 1 Sc 1

Set up his bills means he stuck up tickets:

When a fencing-master visited a town he posted up bills setting forth his accomplishments, and the reasons why the world should learn fencing from him alone. Probably, too, these notices contained challenges to all who might feel inclined to have a bout with him. shakespeare-online.com

It is clear that Beatrice is insulting Benedict with these descriptions of him being, what we today would call stuck up, because Leonato replies:

"Faith, niece, you tax Signior Benedick too much" and soon after that Leonato explains "There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her." MAAN Act 1 Sc 1

Similar to Shakespeare's language, Christopher Marlow's Dr. Faustus (1616) begins by describing the incredible success that Faustus has achieved and states:

"Are not thy bills hung up as monuments"? DrF Act 1 Sc 1 Ln 19

In 1878, the poem/song Sequel to Grandfather's Clock referred to the modern clock that replaced writer Henry Clay Work's grandfather's original closk as "vain, stuck-up thing on the wall" using stuck up with the double meaning of being vain and being up on the wall. This song was written near the end of Work's live (1832-1884) so as a boy he would have heard the phrase stuck up used very close to the time of it's first recording, and how he uses it may support the idea that stuck up came from a ticket/etiquette literally stuck up on a wall.

In 1909, in the book The Pilgrim's March by Sir Henry Howarth Bashford describes a situation where something being stuck up on a wall is a sign of accomplishment, and is connected to likely causing conceit in the person:

"'I came across some of that fellow's verses only this afternoon - stuck up on a cottage wall in the farthest corner of my parish'.....'I haven't told him about it,' he added presently, 'because he's conceited enough already.'"

Compare the Austrailian phrase "he has tickets on himself" which means the same thing as stuck up. The Oxford Dictionary of Moden Slang records this meaning of to have tickets on as "to have a high opinion" and especially to have tickets on oneself as "to be conceited" from 1908.

I believe etiquette / ticket is a more likely root of the term stuck up than one's nose, but I can't say it definitely is.

  • Oh, an interesting theory, perhaps a little too stretched but very appealing nonetheless.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 29, 2014 at 0:04
  • @Mari-LouA I added a bit more to see if I could tighten it up a bit.
    – Brillig
    Aug 29, 2014 at 23:24
  • Wow! Your last two examples are really impressive, and quite convincing. I wish I could hand out more upvotes, but unfortunately I've run out! But, well done, excellent research.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 29, 2014 at 23:28
  • @Mari-LouA well if you liked those, you're gonna love me throwing in Shakespeare and Marlowe, I suspect!
    – Brillig
    Aug 30, 2014 at 2:20

My Oxford English Dictionary gives this definition, dating it to the 19th century (UK): stuck-up /stʌkˈʌp/ adjective. colloq. E19 (= early nineteenth century = 1800-1829) [ORIGIN from stuck adjective + up adverb².]

Affectedly superior, pretentious, snobbish.

(Example) D. Madden: Stuck-up baggage…You're better off without her for a friend.

It doesn't really help you with the "nose in the air" idea (although I agree with you that that is probably the derivation) but it does give a date.

  • Thanks, I ought to say that the OED I quoted from is Online Etymology Dictionary, it's in the link I posted. The 19th century is a bit vague, is there nothing a little more specific?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 28, 2014 at 20:44
  • 1
    Mine is the Oxford English Dictionary. It defines "E19" (early nineteenth century) as 1800-1829. Aug 28, 2014 at 20:48

The first known recorded use of stuck-up is in 1829 (References: 1, 2). No one has definitive documentation on how its use started.

The idea that it involves having the nose stuck up in the air is very likely. This is a word-of-mouth explanation that has come down through the years. Before we can accept such a word-of-mouth explanation, we need some additional evidence. Couple the word-of-mouth with other phrases such as, "to look down ones nose at" and you have evidence that the nose is in other phrases that are used for the same connotation. This lends credibility to the theory. While this evidence is still weak, it is the best we have and it at least provides some corroboration to the word-of-mouth explanation.

Hence, until further evidence is presented (usually older written text), your belief is as correct as far as the little evidence there is suggests.

The term stuck-up is short for somebody's nose stuck up in the air.

It is completely possible that someone might investigating other theories or source phrases and prove this wrong someday.

Note: It would be nice to read the actual first use from 1829. I haven't found the text.

  • Well done! And I too would be very curious to know the exact text.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 28, 2014 at 20:45
  • 1
    Josh61's answer adds additional phrases that lend credibility to the word-of-mouth explanation.
    – Rhyous
    Aug 28, 2014 at 20:49
  • 1
    @Rhyous Your, and others, point about the nose I believe is important. The nose seems to embody something about snobbishness and disdain. There is for example the further term toffee-nosed, meaning having an air of superiority.
    – WS2
    Aug 28, 2014 at 21:25

"Hoist on one's own petard" (mentioned above) literally means thrown up into the air by the explosion of one's own bomb. Hochnaesig (high-nosed) is the German for stuck up, which bears no relationship to the ignominy of public embarrassment inherent in being hoist in such a manner. It is an attitude that the self-studied "superior" people adopt to separate their version of reality from that of the hoi polloi. Condescension by such people was admired in Jane Austen's time by the middle classes. For the great unwashed, they were like pictures stuck up on a wall.


"The Lounger" (1785) might be of interest to you:

At a dancing-school ball, where I happened to be not long ago, I was struck with the solitary figure of Captain N. looking demure, and stuck up in a corner.

"The Lounger" (1785)

  • So that people know where the link is going, please post the full link, not the shortened one? Sep 5, 2014 at 16:55
  • 1
    Could you explain what this answer has to do with the word snob?
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 5, 2014 at 17:19
  • @AndrewLeach because it has the expression stuck up in a corner dated 1785, but I believe the idiom, to be stuck in a corner, is totaly unrelated to being "conceited" and "snobby".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 5, 2014 at 18:57
  • @Mari-LouA I agree; that connection is what I'm still hoping to elicit.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 5, 2014 at 21:01
  • I'm likely to agree with Mari-Lou A on this. But I thought the usage could be interpreted by a reasonable person to suggest "snobby". Frankly, I don't have time to parse it very closely.
    – blackappy
    Sep 5, 2014 at 21:03

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