It’s common for sayings and idioms to appear in English, but sometimes we overlook them before getting to know their true meanings. In this article, we will look at what “too on the nose” means and how to use it.
What Does “Too On The Nose” Mean?
“Too on the nose” means that something is too perfect to be good. It’s used as a negative phrase and mostly refers to art. People will say that a piece of art is “too on the nose” when it’s been over-detailed and has ruined the intended effect of the art.
The definition of “too on the nose,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “exactly right, often an exact amount of money or time.” However, this definition only talks about “on the nose,” which is a positive phrase. Adding “too” beforehand makes it a negative phrase.
While the original saying was used in a more positive manner, we use “too on the nose” in a less positive way. “Too” is used as an emphasizer which helps to make our point more impactful, even if the original thing was good:
- That’s good.
- That’s too good.
The first example is simply using a positive adjective. The second example is using “too” almost to show the reverse. It’s saying that something is so good, it’s no longer considered to be the original adjective (and is usually seen as bad instead).
Too On The Nose – Examples
To help you understand the phrase slightly better, we’ll include some examples. These are some of the best ways that you can go about learning when you can use the phrase. Remember, it’s mostly written in a negative light, so pay close attention to that.
“Too on the nose” is used when we want to say that something is too over-detailed to the point where it’s no longer effective. It’s mostly used to talk about art pieces or other subjective pieces (since some people might not believe it to be too on the nose).
- I’m sorry, but this work is too on the nose for me to be able to do anything useful with.
- That artist is far too on the nose. I’ll find someone better.
- I can’t stand that author; all of his prose is too on the nose.
- He only writes stuff that’s too on the nose. I can’t possibly enjoy it.
- This painting is just too on the nose. It had true potential, but then the artist overdid it.
- What you just said was too on the nose. You’ve offended her, and I think you should apologize.
- All of this work is too on the nose. I recommend you fix it before trying to hand it in again.
- Your essay is a little too on the nose. Try to reword the sections I’ve highlighted to make it better.
- We’re making sure that our work isn’t too on the nose. We’ve had a complaint that we over-detail our paintings.
- Her sculpture is too on the nose. It’s supposed to be more abstract, but it’s very clear what we’re looking at.
- I’m sorry, but this painting is too on the nose for us to purchase it.
- Do you ever do anything that’s not too on the nose? If you do, I’ll purchase it.
From these examples, you can see that we’re always talking about things that are subjective. While one person might consider something to be “too on the nose” for their own tastes, that doesn’t mean that everyone else will.
You can never use “too on the nose” in a positive sense. If you’re going to use it in this manner, you’re almost always doing it to insult somebody.
The only other case, which you can see in example six, is using it to say that what somebody said was “too on the nose.” Generally, that means that would they said was true, but it wasn’t pleasant for somebody to hear (usually relating to a personal problem).
Origin Of “Too On The Nose”
One of the most interesting things about idioms and sayings like this is learning where they come from. “Too on the nose” has a fascinating origin, and it might help with your understanding if you learn more about it.
“Too on the nose” is an idiomatic expression that derives from boxing. It was first used to say that “the nose” was the target for a boxer to aim for. That meant that “the nose” was the perfect target.
The original phrase was “on the nose,” which means that something is exactly right. It is still used in this way if you want to show that someone has the exact value of something.
However, when we include “too” to modify it, it’s showing us that we simply have too much of a good thing.
There is one other explanation for its origin, but it’s not nearly as popular as the boxing variation (which most people accept as true).
In 2018, another dictionary (The Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins) said that “on the nose” was a term from radio broadcasting. Apparently, directors would put their forefingers on their noses to indicate that the radio show was running on time.
No matter which of these origins you decide to use, they both have the same meaning and work well to establish what “too on the nose” means.
Synonyms For “Too On The Nose”
Finally, let’s go over some alternatives to the idiom that you can use in its place. These are helpful for anyone picking up the language and looking to expand their understanding. Rather than worrying about a particular idiom like “too on the nose,” you can say one of these instead.
- Too literal
Saying something is “too literal” means that it takes the original idea and explains it too thoroughly. A lot of art is up for interpretation, and in the cases of art that is “too literal,” it doesn’t allow people to explore this avenue.
- Too precise
If you spend too much time on one thing and forget about the bigger picture, you can end up with something that’s “too precise.” This is another great synonym.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.