Signs of resentment: to have (something) up your nose against me

U 1.161-4: Why don’t you trust me more? What have you up your nose against me? Is it Haines? If he makes any noise here I’ll bring down Seymour and we’ll give him a ragging worse than they gave Clive Kempthorpe.

It is perhaps surprising that Mulligan’s “What have you up your nose against me?” – so early in Ulysses – has not been properly explained by Ulysses commentators. Gifford and Thornton pass over the expression. Dent recognises that it is noteworthy, but his note simply refers to an apparent parallel in the Oxford English Dictionary: to get it up one’s nose “to become angry”, dated from 1925.1 But Joyce’s expression is not equivalent to this, and seems to be an Irish English phrase familiar to Joyce in the early twentieth century.

Documentary evidence is not easy to find. In 1903 the Kildare Observer of 7 March (p. 2) carries a court report which transcribes the slang idiom of everyday Irish English:

Mr. Tracy - I believe you had a small dispute with Mooney before, and the row is still, as they [sic] saying is, "up your nose".

The implication is that the source of a dispute is hidden, still causes resentment, and is likely to explode upon the scene again at some future date.

A further example appears in the Dublin Evening Herald of 9 April (p. 2), again in the report of a court case:

It was merely that he broke his word of honour, isn't that it? - Yes. But still you had it up your nose for him? - I had, certainly.

But having it up your nose for him you still kept working on with him until October? - Yes, in expectation.

But all this time you had this rankling in your mind against him - hadn't you? - Not all the time.

In both of these examples, and in Ulysses, the expression connotes not specifically anger – though this may well be involved – but smouldering resentment, nursing a grudge, which might be converted into action at any moment.

John Simpson


1 In the OED's Third Edition now dated to 1900, but predominantly regarded as an expression characteristic of P. G. Wodehouse’s writings.

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