I've never heard of this idiom before today and thought it was an especially curious one. What's the origin of calling the cheap seats the nosebleed seats at the theater?

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    Aside: In cinema theatres in India, it's the seats closest to the movie screen (which make you crane your neck the whole time) that are cheapest, and are affectionately known as "Gandhi class". (Gandhi always travelled third-class in trains, and when asked why, he would say "Because there's no fourth class".) – ShreevatsaR Jul 12 '11 at 17:45
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    Also not to be confused with the nosebleed section at a music concert; directly at the front, where you're so tightly packed that you'll get a nosebleed every time someone jostles past you to get a better position. – Dexter Jul 12 '11 at 20:19

The idea is that the seats are so high up that you will get a nosebleed from the altitude (i.e. the air is so much thinner). It is an example of hyperbole.

  • This. It came into more common usage when sports arenas started being built to handle 100k people or more; in such cases, calling the upper area of the upper deck the "nosebleed section" doesn't sound so much like hyperbole. – KeithS Jul 12 '11 at 14:30
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    Could be so close to the action you will get a nosebleed if the players hit you ;) – mplungjan Jul 12 '11 at 14:49
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    @mplungian: At a hockey game, any seat is potentially in the nosebleed section. ^_^ – Robusto Jul 12 '11 at 15:00
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    @Robusto - Whereas at a NASCAR event, any seat is potentially in the decapitation section. – T.E.D. Jul 12 '11 at 15:14
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    Also see Wikipedia re nosebleed section, which says, "The phrases nosebleed section and nosebleed seats are applied tongue-in-cheek to those seats of a public arena, usually an athletic stadium or gymnasium, that are highest and, usually, farthest from the desired activity." Note, however, it also says "At the opposite extreme, the "nosebleed section" in a club refers to the very front of the venue, the most active part of the mosh pit, where accidental collisions can make nosebleeds common." – James Waldby - jwpat7 Sep 22 '11 at 23:25

It's an exaggeration of the altitude of said seats. High altitude can cause nose bleeds in some people.

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