How come our nose run and our feet smell? What is the etymology of this paradox phrase?

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    What's the paradox? Are you familiar with the concept of metaphor? And did you know that smell can mean either 'produce a smell' or 'notice a smell'? – John Lawler Jul 15 '15 at 15:34
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    It's a joke. Goodness only knows where or when old jokes started, – Margana Jul 15 '15 at 22:03

There isn't one. Smelly feet/feet smell refers to the odour or scent given off by the feet:

smell, v.

  1. a. intr. To give out, send forth, or exhale an odour; to have a smell, scent, etc.

A runny nose uses the following definition of runny:

runny, adj.

  1. a. Tending to run or flow; having the consistency of liquid, fluid, not set; soft, melting; watery.

  2. orig. U.S. Of the nose: running, discharging mucus. Of the eyes: watering, or tending to water.

  • I would argue that runny in this context refers to definition 4.4: To emit or exude liquid. (I don't have access to the oed to check if this definition is in your dictionary as well) – scohe001 Jul 15 '15 at 15:40
  • @scohe001 the OED is online (click the words themselves for the links) and I think you may be correct, so I'll change it. Thanks. – Blubberguy22 Jul 15 '15 at 15:41
  • It's online if you have an account for it... – scohe001 Jul 15 '15 at 15:43
  • @scohe001 That's odd; I can use the links and I don't have an account (for e.g., the runny one: oed.com/view/Entry/168945). – Blubberguy22 Jul 15 '15 at 15:44
  • @Blubberguy22 Are you perchance sitting in a library or an academic institution of higher learning? – DRF Jul 15 '15 at 15:44

No paradox, just ordinary language I'd say:


  • more liquid than usual: The sauce looked runny so I added some more flour.

  • If your nose is runny, it is producing more mucus than usual, usually because you are ill: I've got a runny nose.


  • (intr. ) to emit an unpleasant odour; stink

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