"It don't make any difference," he said. "I'm washed up anyway. Some nose puts the bulls on me tomorrow, next week, what the hell? I just didn't like your map, pal.

A nose means a person, I guess, but is there a idiom like 'put the bulls on somebody'?

Or if has something to do with 'put balls on', it doesn't make much sense in this sentence. I understand this sentence as 'somebody would kill me.... but I don't care."

(from 'Red Wind' by Raymond Chandler)

  • 5
    "The bulls" means the police (originally the railroad police who would kick vagrants off the train, but later any police). To put the police on you means to inform them of your misdeeds, or, if they're already seeking you, then to inform them of your whereabouts. I've never encountered "nose" used in this sense before, but it conjures up in me the idea of "nosiness" as well as the idea of a bloodhound, sniffing something out (maybe a reference to a private detective)?
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 19, 2015 at 1:01
  • 3
    @Dan yes, nose = private investigator.
    – user63230
    Jan 19, 2015 at 1:04

2 Answers 2


I'm pretty sure nose in this case is a police informer aka a "snout." Bulls would be cops or guards. I'm familiar with bulls in the context of railroad bulls, guards who threw hobos off trains.


Just to confirm Nancy-Joe Foster's correct answer by quoting from a reliable reference work on U.S. slang, I offer the entries for the relevant senses of nose and bull in Robert Chapman & Barbara Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, third edition (1995):

nose n underworld by 1830 A police informer = STOOL PIGEON


bull 1 n by 1850s A peace officer of any kind, esp a uniformed police officer

To me, the most surprising thing here is how early both slang terms came into use in U.S. English. Evidently, nose and bulls were available not only to Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard, but (theoretically) to Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, too.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.