16

A nosy parker is someone who doesn't mind their own business. They will poke their noses into other people's affairs, and attempt to eke out whatever information they can, the more personal the better. A busybody is a near equivalent, and perhaps more familiar term to American speakers.

On the web, several theories abound as to who Mr. Parker might have been.

The first candidate is Matthew Parker, the Archbishop of Canterbury between 1559 and 1575, and supposedly renowned for his numerous enquiries and investigations into the activities of the English clergy.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), instead, nominates a 1907 picture postcard entitled ‘The Adventures of Nosey Parker’ as being the likeliest candidate.

“the original ‘nosy parker’ was one who played Peeping Tom to love-making couples in Hyde Park.”

From a Daily Express postcard, dated 1918, the physical traits of the character are well-defined. (source)

enter image description here

The lexicographer, Eric Partridge, suggests that Parker is derived from park-keeper, a caretaker of a park or large enclosure of land, at the time of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851.

However, all of the references I consulted agreed to reject the authoritarian yet pious Matthew Parker, based on one, indisputable, fact: the phrase ‘nosey parker’ only appeared in print three hundred years after his death. Each one cites the 1890 May issue of Belgravia, as bearing the earliest example in print. What the majority of online sources fail to mention, is that Nosey Parker (note the capital letters) is preceded by a certain Mr. Poll Pry.

"So I says to 'im (you'll understn' as we had been a walkin' out about four months, an' I was gittin' a bit sick of 'im anì his wavs). “now, lookey 'ere, Mr. Poll Pry, you're a asking' too many questions for me, there's too much of Mr. Nosey Parker about you, an' I'd 'ave you to know as I'm a laidee, but perhaps you thought as I was a J.an' yer could 'ave me on a bit of toast, but you're mistaken, and so yer 'ad better sling yer ook.”

The last candidate is American, and a woman, but whose last name is not Parker. I discovered a Mrs. Nosey in Locke's National Monthly, 1874

Then turning a corner, we encountered Mrs Nosey. I had great respect for Mrs Nosey. She was a woman one was obliged to respect. I trembled lest I looked dishevelled, lest she should detect something in my eye which hadn't ought to be there. You know her well. She is acute, critical. She has kindly, cat-like ways; but she has, also, a protruberance on her face which nothing escapes. It is as delicate in its groping and detecting as the proboscis of the elephant. People speak well of her in a constrained way: because they dare not whisper their true opinion, lest that nose should protrude through walls and catch them in the act She Nose-s all current events; she can smell secret sins.

The description above tells us that Nosey was an appellation for anyone who exhibited a larger than average-sized nose, but the excerpt also suggests that nosey/nosy meant someone who pried into people's private affairs effortlessly.

Questions

  • Can someone find an earlier instance of Nosey Parker (or nosy parker) than 1890?
  • As to the "identity" of Parker, is there a fourth or fifth possible candidate?
  • Is nosy parker used only among British English speakers, as Cambridge and Oxford Dictionaries state? Do Americans call a prying person, nosey/nosy?

Sources

  1. The Phrase Finder
  2. Matthew Parker, Wikipedia
  3. Watch Your Language!: Mother Tongue and Her Wayward Children
    By Robert M. Gorrell
  4. Grammarphobia
  5. World Wide Words
  6. Word Histories
  • "There are some very British expressions that don't mean anything to Americans such as a "nosy parker" which is just another name for a nosy person. brilliantbritain.blogspot.it/2008/08/… – user66974 Apr 9 '17 at 18:11
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    Nosy is certainly used pretty commonly in AmE (that's the preferred spelling on this side of the Atlantic, though nosey doesn't seem too wrong). But with Parker not so much. Mr./Ms./Miss Nosy or similar would be more likely as an epithet. Nosy-Pants is probably the closest version we have. – 1006a Apr 10 '17 at 4:12
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    As to your second question, my copy of Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins (Hendrickson, p380) first lists Matthew Parker, but then continues: "But other candidates have been proposed. Richard Parker, leader of the Sheerness Mutiny in 1797, is one strong contender. This Parker poked his nose so deeply into what the military thought their exclusive bailiwick that he wound up hanged from the yardarm of HMS Sandwich." – Shoe Apr 12 '17 at 9:59
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    I'd just like to add, as an American from the Mid-West, I am more familiar with the term Nosey Nancy (and have never heard the term Nosey Parker). – Maddie S. Apr 12 '17 at 12:24
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    @RichardKayser Let me see ... dusty pink theme... check..., boysenberry boxes ...check... Georgia font...check. Yes, this is EL&U. Did you happen to feel lost? – Mari-Lou A Apr 13 '17 at 15:17
6

For what it's worth:
I was born in 1948 and grew up in a small town in south-central Colorado. My mother was born in the same town in 1924. Her father was born and grew up in Denver. His grandmother, Eliza Stafford, was an English immigrant. She lived with the family until death, about 1915. Anyway, my mother would chastise us (brothers and sister) not to be "a nosey parker." We would call each other that to incite ire.
I hadn't thought of that much until today, hence my visit to this site.

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    Do you know in which year your great great grandmother, Eliza Stafford, emigrated to the US? Did she come as a child with her parents? Or did she emigrate with her husband and children? – Mari-Lou A Apr 12 '17 at 6:01
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    (reposted because of spelling errors) This is invaluable information. Thank you so much for your first-hand account. What better reference is there than someone's personal experience living as a child in the States, and actually using an expression that dictionaries say is exclusively British? – Mari-Lou A Apr 12 '17 at 8:12
  • Similarly, I first heard the term "Nosey Parker" in the early 1960s in Austin, Texas, on a visit to my grandmother's house, when she informed me that that's what I was (I had been poking around in her bookshelves, I believe). She was born in Ontario in the 1890s (her father had immigrated to Canada from Sutherland, Scotland, and her mother's family from somewhere in Germany a decade or more before she was born) but had immigrated to Texas in her late teens or early twenties—certainly by 1920. I doubt that many other kids in Texas in the 1960s were on the receiving end of "Nosy Parker." – Sven Yargs Apr 14 '17 at 23:45
  • @SvenYargs There is a 1910 Palestine, Texas movie advertisement that mentions "Nosey Parker". chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86090383/1910-11-30/ed-1/… – DavePhD Apr 18 '17 at 17:15
  • @DavePhD: Yep. That same movie (or at least a movie with the same title) was showing in various parts of Australia a year earlier, I believe. So it's not impossible that people from Palestine in northeast Texas spread the expression to Austin in central Texas and made it (temporarily) a known expression there. But I believe that it was virtually unknown in Corpus Christi, Houston, Austin, and Weimar, Texas—the places where I lived or visited frequently—during the 1960s and 1970s. – Sven Yargs Apr 18 '17 at 17:47
4
+400

There is an early etymological article Nosey Parker Public Health vol. 30, page 190 (May 1917).

...

The above expression was in common use in early Victorian days, as applied to persons showing a strong tendency to interfere with other people's business.

Some persons affirm that Nosey was Parker the Violoncello player at Drury Lane (1753), and say that he was so called from his long nose, and his disposition to interfere with the parts of other instrumentalists.

On the other hand, I am informed by one who says he knew her well, that the, or at least an, original Mrs. Parker was a lady of austere propriety and unimpeachable virtue, who flourished in the final quarter of last century about the neighbourhood of Islington or Stoke Newington. Abnormally endowed with the inquisitorial and critical diathesis and prominent features, she early evinced an unquenchable interest in the intimate affairs of others that rendered her a person of consideration among an extensive if unwilling acquaintance.

The memory of this worthy representative of a type only too frequently met with, was immortalised to fame by a character styled Nosey Parker in a pantomime at Drury Lane, circa 189o , and subsequently kept green through the efforts of an eccentric comedian, Happy Tom Parker, who adorned with an explorative proboscis toured the music-halls a dozen or so years ago with a topical song dedicated to our heroine.

The term " Nosey Parker " became common in England as referring to Paul Prys of either sex, and was (and perhaps still is) also applied by the classes who, on general principles, find themselves in opposition to the ordinances of sound citizenship, to members of that useful but unpopular service, the Police.

However, earlier references such as the 1880 The Reader's Handbook of Allusions, References, Plots and Stories at page 691 make the same statement about the violoncello player being "Nosey" or "Old Nosey", but without the addition of "Parker".

"Nosey Parker" was also the title of a song by Herbert Campbell. Many sources such as the 27 April 1899 To-day explain:

Mr. Herbert Campbell is singing with great success two songs, called respectively “No show to-night” and “Nosey Parker.”

similarly, the 03 December 1898 The Sporting Times says:

Mr. Herbert Campbell gave us Nosey Parker, which evidently is going to be one of the pantomime tunes this year

Another candidate, according to the 1946 book Unusual Words: And how They Came about, citing to From Ships to Sailors (1928) by Stanley Rogers is:

Richard Parker, who so pushed his nose into things that should not have concerned him, that he was hanged from the yardarm of H.M.S. Sandwich on 30th June, 1797, for leading the Sheerness Mutiny of that year

Additionally, there is an early example of the verb form in the article A Poet of the People, St. James Gazette, 15 May 1893, page 5, in the context of finding odd jobs:

You have to go nosey-parkering about for 'em, you do, I give you my word.

  • Could you find another reference for the song "Nosey Parker" dated 1899? I found a reference to a song sung by "Happy Tom Parker" dated 1913 He did have a signature tune written for him by songwriters Will Hyde composer and John L. St John lyricist, the song was entitled "Nosey Parker" (1913). ... The first verse of Nosey Parker shows his style as being comedy: – Mari-Lou A Apr 19 '17 at 9:24
  • @Mari-LouA Yes, but it is 1898 really, as the "03 December 1898 The Sporting Times" says. See also the "Public Health" quote "subsequently kept green through the efforts of an eccentric comedian, Happy Tom ". Other references are the 22 April 1899 London and Provincial Entr'acte which says "...and Nosey Parker are songs which the humour of Mr. Herbert Campbell gives great significance". britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/search/… and also the 03 December 1898 "The Era" of London. – DavePhD Apr 19 '17 at 14:00
  • @Mari-LouA Three 1901 references say "Nosey Parker" was sung by Alice Lloyd britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/search/… "Miss Alice Lloyd, whose songs, 'Louie didn't know', 'A popular lady" and "Nosey Parker" have been in great demand" – DavePhD Apr 19 '17 at 14:01
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    @Mari-LouA The 22 April 1899 article is reproduced here: arthurlloyd.co.uk/JollyJohnNash.htm and says the full name of the Herbert Campbell song was "I'm none of your Nosey Parker sort". – DavePhD Apr 19 '17 at 14:34
  • Using your BNA link, I found a 1893 citation for You have to nosey parkering about for 'em which beats Oxford Dictionaries 1930s citation by a massive margin. – Mari-Lou A Apr 19 '17 at 15:35
3

I wonder if the origin is not in the name of a real person, but in a bowdlerisation of 'poke nose', by way of 'nose poker' and/or 'Nosey Poker' to 'Mr Nosey Parker'. This answer is by way of an exploration of that possibility rather than a definitive claim.

I can find 'Poke nose' as far back as a 1852 Published collection of Mr Julius Caesar Hannibal's 'Scientific Discourses: Originally Published in the New York Picayune' where it literally refers to a nose, but one belonging to persons with the attributes of a Nosey Parker.

De next nose under 'sideration am de poke nose; dese am de wust noses of all. Dey am ginerally long and pinety, and found 'mong de old maids, slip shod married wimming, editors, and now and den it am found 'mong de preecher mans. My dear deluded lams, beware ob de poke nose. You noe dem in a minit by dere sneakingly, downwardly, pintingly 'pearance. if you don't look out for dem, you'll wish you better has, kos dey'll find out all your buisness. Noe how many sasingers you eat for dinner! Whar you git your close! How much you git for white-washing a day! and sich tings, an' den go glab it on de corner an' in de cellar.


NB Julius Caesar Hannibal was the pen-name of Wm Levison, an early editor of the NY Picayune, so he is poking fun at himself in this.

The earliest example of 'Poke Nose' used as a name which I can track down comes from the 1895 Romance Daughters of the Revolution and Their Times, 1769-1776

Ebenezer Richardson, however, could not see the fun of the thing. The schoolboys called him "Poke Nose" because he was ever ready to poke into other people's affairs.

and

"Say, Poke Nose ; how much are ye going to get for the job? " shouted one of the boys. " You mind your own business." " That 's what you don't do." "Don't ye call me names, you little imp," shouted the informer, shaking his fist at the boy.

'Nose Poker' I can only push back as far as a 1920 pharmaceutical Journal 'The Stirring Rod'

Of course, taxes are necessary to pay the salaries and expenses of the district attorneys and health boards, and deputy commissioners, and official Paul Prys, and assistant inspectors, and bureau chiefs and special nose-pokers who now

This is interesting for the reappearance of 'Paul/Poll Pry' which probably undermines it as a source for a longer pedigree for 'nose-poker' than Nosey Parker'. However, Paul Pry seems to have begun life as the eponymous here of a 1825 play, so it may be that Paul Pry and Nosey Parker only met up in later life and on separate occasions as two distinct personifications of the same characteristics.

'Nosey poker' I can only find back in print as far as 1911, so post-dating the example in the question. From the The Reformatory Press (I was only able to glean the text from the snippet on the google search results page)

The“ Nosey-Poker ” By A. J. W.

The noses'-poker is a pest. Each and every day. \ For he bothers all his neighbors And bores them more-—I say. Nosing here and everywhere

'Nosey' as a name with no 'poke' or 'parker' crops up in Arabian Day's Entertainments, a book of fairy tales translated from German and published in 1858. The book features the tale of 'Nosey the Dwarf', who starts life normally enough but is cursed with a long nose while a boy. Later in life his adventures lead him to a castle where he earns the king's approbation for his cooking skills.

'As everyone in my palace receives his name from me, your name shall be Nosey and you shall hold the rank of sub-kitchen-inspector.'

The post he is given is the earliest, if tenuous, link I've found between the name and the idea of inquiring into things, in this case legitimately.

(it might also, after the 'overly curious' meaning of Nosey became established, be the start of the idea of dwarfs being named after a feature of their character, which Disney picked up and ran with.)

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    I'd be wary about Nosey the Dwarf, suggesting he was a prying character. Nosey was a commen epithet for someone with a large nose, and the fact that the dwarf becomes a cook, suggests that he was blessed with extraordinary olphatory skills. Yes, the King promotes him, but does his nickname refer to his new role as inspector or to the size of his "honker"?? – Mari-Lou A Apr 11 '17 at 13:39
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    @Mari-LouA I think you are reading something i didn't write. Rather than suggesting he was a prying character, I was suggesting that, in having the King name him dwarf Nosey and make him and inspector, the author creates the earliest association I have found between the idea of being inquisitive/making enquiries and the name. In other words, it is possible (though by no means certain) that because the author makes someone called Nosey an inspector, that others begin to associate the name with the character trait of inquisitiveness. I grant it is pretty tenuous. – Spagirl Apr 11 '17 at 13:53
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    @Mari-LouA The Disney reference may be what put you wrong on what I was saying. I imagined in a frivolous was someone from Disney reading the take after 'Nosey' as showing too much curiosity about other people's affairs became established and reading it as such. I've tried to make the Answer clearer on both points. – Spagirl Apr 11 '17 at 13:57
  • I wish I could fix spellings in comment, it looked odd when I typed it at the time, so I checked and it is wrong. I meant *olfactory – Mari-Lou A Apr 12 '17 at 10:05
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Note: This is an answer to the second of the OP's questions.


Hendrickson, in The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins (380), has this entry for Nosey Parker:

Matthew Parker, who became archbishop of Canterbury in 1559, acquired a reputation for poking his nose into other people's business. His reputation is largely undeserved, but Catholics and Puritans alike resented his good works,taking advantage of his rather long nose and dubbing him Nosey Parker, which has meant an unduly inquisitive person ever since. The above, at least, is the most popular folk etymology for Nosey Parker. But other candidates have been proposed. Richard Parker, leader of the Sheerness Mutiny in 1797, is one strong contender. This Parker poked his nose so deeply into what the military thought their exclusive bailiwick that he wound up hanged from the yardarm of HMS Sandwich.

Source: Hendrickson, Robert. The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins. New York: Facts on File, 1987. Print.

3

FWIW: I'm an audiobook narrator, and 2 years ago I narrated a book containing several references to someone being a "nosy parker." The author is from Washington state, in the U.S., which is where the book was set. It was a very small-town, insular setting, and the phrase was not used by British immigrants. I was struck by it because, being native to the Midwest U.S., I had NEVER heard the phrase before.

He was a big fat nosy parker tattletale then, and he's a big fat nosy parker tattletale now.

The book is Cupidity: A Novel by Patricia Wood

2

Although not common, the phrase "Nosy Parker" or "Nosey Parker" has not been unknown in the US over the past century.

Tom Tryniski has a site, Fulton History, where he has digitized many old US Newspapers from microfilm reels, primarily from New York state. The newspapers can be searched, highlighted, and downloaded.

A search returns 55 results for the phrase "Nosy Parker", and 83 for "Nosey Parker". The earliest of these is from 1919 and the most recent is from 2004.

Here are some examples:

A different cartoon by the same cartoonist as in the OP was published on the editorial pages of the New York Evening Telegram, December 10, 1919: enter image description here

The Recorder, Greenfield, Mass., April 23, 2004 has a review of a 2004 movie called "Nosey Parker".

The Evening Leader, Corning, NY, Thursday, June 2, 1949, p. 4:

I was thinking of the Sunday afternoon we spent exploring the country south of Corning last summer trying to find the farm on the hill a mile or two from what, as I remembered, was known as the Bulkhead road—where we, or at least I had enjoyed many a drink of milk fresh from the cow, through the courtesy of the farmer there. We failed to find the place. I never got a taste of the delectable stuff. When I breezed to and tried to wheedle a dipperful from the farmers here and there we found they were milking, I got nothing but suspicious looks—I realized later they suspected I was some sort of Nosy Parker from the Health Department.

New York Evening Post, Monday, June 1, 1931, p. 10 printed a poem by Richard Butler Glaenzer called 'On the Players' Revival of "The Way of the World"' that contains these lines:

No need to rail or bite your thumb
Because a Witwoud seems beneath
Contempt. Be glad you are not dumb
Yourself, and ogden-nash your teeth
At Mistress Marwood (Nosy Parker).

In the Tonawanda News from December 9, 1969 is an editorial about US involvement in Rhodesia that describes someone as a Nosy Parker:

Not only is Rhodesia thriving economically, but the only effect the sanctions have had is to increase the misery of the unemployed and under-employed poor blacks.

THIS HAS BEEN conceded even by that ideological Nosy Parker, G. Mennen Williams, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

The Taconic Newspapers of November 18 and 19, 1987, p. B13, and presumably other newspapers, contains a crossword clue "Nosy Parker".

A different crossword with a "Nosy Parker" clue is found in The Recorder, Greenfield, Mass., June 30, 2003.

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    Note the "pro-boss-us" / proboscis pun, clearly aimed at educated readers! – shoover Apr 20 '17 at 5:45
  • I think this is a really informative answer, it's just a pity you posted after the bounty had expired. The answer deserved greater attention / recognition. Hopefully, over time, visitors will appreciate your contribution. – Mari-Lou A Apr 20 '17 at 10:47

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