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I find it odd that we say our "nose runs". Even stranger is that our feet "smell". Why is this?

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Mari-Lou A, michael_timofeev, Chenmunka, tchrist Nov 27 '15 at 3:44

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    Because nasal mucous is liquid and idiomatically liquids run (i.e., flow)? Because smell means to emit an odor as well as perceive one? – deadrat Nov 11 '15 at 3:28
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    Smell is a sense verb; they do things like that. As for liquid running, think about "running water" as opposed to "still water". Which one is better to describe mucus flow? – John Lawler Nov 11 '15 at 3:33
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    I think the OP is asking why parts of the body are said to do these actions. When we have a cold, our noses don't literally "run" (away), and our feet cannot "smell" odours, it's our noses that perform this function. Why don't we say our eyes "run" when tears flow from them? We don't, we have a verb that describes the action: cry. – Mari-Lou A Nov 11 '15 at 6:33
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    We say: My nose is runny.... I have a runny nose, ... her nose is running, ... he suffers from rhinitis. We don't normally say: my/your/his (etc) nose runs – Mari-Lou A Nov 11 '15 at 6:40
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    I thought I remembered this question, and I was right! Related: Paradox of language: smelly feet and runny nose – Mari-Lou A Nov 12 '15 at 20:00

"Runny nose" vs "running nose": (M-W)

  • Both terms are correct, but runny nose is much more common. Runny nose is the idiom that Americans use to describe what happens when your nose runs (that is, when liquid comes out of your nose because of a cold, allergy, or crying). This is the term for the general condition of having a running nose and is used in a sentence like the word cold when it refers to an illness. Note also that the idiom is to have a runny nose:

    • My daughter has cough and a runny nose.
    • Symptoms include runny nose, itchy eyes, and scratchy throat.
    • I wish I could do something about my runny nose.
  • Running nose has the same meaning but is used only to refer to a specific instance of this symptom, in contrast to the condition in general. This expression is used very rarely; it's literal and descriptive and can be understood as being too direct a reference to something that is unpleasant:

    • My uncle wiped his running nose with his sleeve.
    • Her baby has a perpetually running nose and a rash on his stomach.
    • Go give that boy with the running nose a kleenex.

Ngram (runny nose AmE vs BrE). The term is relatively recent (from the 30's according to Google books) and it is actually a more common expression in AmE.

The expression comes from the natural perception of mucus flowing (running) down your nose and as a matter of fact its official scientific definition is:

  • Rhinorrhea or rhinorrhoea is a condition where the nasal cavity is filled with a significant amount of mucus fluid. The condition, commonly known as a runny nose, occurs relatively frequently.

  • The term was coined in 1866 and is a combination of the Greek terms rhino- ("of the nose") and -rhoia ("discharge" or "flow").


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    See my comment under the OP's question. I think he needs to first clarify the question. – Mari-Lou A Nov 11 '15 at 6:37
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    Well, you are actually asking another (interesting) question. Do I not answer his? – user66974 Nov 11 '15 at 6:40
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    Learned a lot from your answer. – user140086 Nov 11 '15 at 10:21
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    I'm gonna give you the check just because I learned so much more than necessary about runny noses and smelly feet. :-) Though, it was the "paradox of language" that I was stuck on. – Zack Zatkin-Gold Nov 13 '15 at 22:38

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