I was drawn to the phrase, “a man now within a nose-hair of the presidency" in the article that came under the title, “Fat-Shamer in Chief” in New York Times September 30 issue that begins with the following passage:

“Apparently, millions of Americans don’t care that a man now within a nose-hair of the presidency may be the most prolific liar in modern political history. Nor do they care about the authoritarian policies he espouses, his truly scary embrace of dictators abroad and crackpots at home, or his monumental ignorance on every subject.”

I surmise the phrase, “a nose-hair” means a close distance, and “a man now within a nose-hair of the presidency” means “a man who is now very close to the presidency," however, I’m not able to find the usage of “within a nose-hair of (a status / position by distance) “ in English dictionaries at hand, nor on line. Googling gave me only “nose hairs” as a noun and a picture of nose hair cutter.

In Japanese, we say “目と鼻の先 – the distance between one’s eyes and nose” to describe a very close distance.

Is it common to use “within a nose-hair of” in such was as “a man now within a nose-hair of the presidency”?

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    No, it is not a common idiom. In fact, I don't ever recall ever seeing/hearing "nose hair" used in this sense. There various idioms which separately involve "nose" or "hair" to describe something close in distance or time, but using them together is not common. – Hot Licks Oct 2 '16 at 1:13
  • (Note that it is possible that "nose hair" is some sort of "meme" with regard to Trump, but, if so, I'm not aware of it.) – Hot Licks Oct 2 '16 at 1:20

No, this is not a common usage. The writer has conflated two common phrases for "close":

  1. "By a nose", a phrase that comes from horse racing. Contrast with "by a head", which is a longer distance.

  2. "A hair's breadth" means a tiny distance.

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    I’m pretty sure that the author did not mistakenly conflate two common phrases. It was done on purpose. Perhaps nose hairs are disgusting and so is the idea of Trump as president... – Jim Oct 2 '16 at 2:03
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    The google finds 171K hits for "won by a hair"; 1,380 hits for "won by a nose hair". Too few to be a common trope; too many for an erroneous conflation. – deadrat Oct 2 '16 at 2:12
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    @deadrat - Yep, examining some of the Google hits (no Ngram hits) it appears that "won by a nose hair" has been around since 2010, at least. And it seems to be often used in something of a "trash talk" context. There are hints that the phrase originates from horse racing (as does "won by a nose", of course). – Hot Licks Oct 2 '16 at 2:32
  • I never said it was a mistaken conflation. The writer did it deliberately, for effect. – Theresa Oct 4 '16 at 1:38

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