win by a nose: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘win by a nose’ mean?

When someone wins by a nose, it means they have achieved victory by a very small margin or by a narrow margin of success.

Idiom Explorer

"Margin of Victory"

The idiom "win by a nose" refers to a close victory where the margin of success is extremely narrow. It originates from the world of horse racing and is a metaphorical expression used to describe a situation where the winning horse crosses the finish line with only a small distance, often described as the length of its nose, separating it from the second-place horse.

In horse racing, especially thoroughbred racing, the outcome of a race is determined by the position of the horses as they cross the finish line. The term "win by a nose" is a literal description of a horse winning a race by the smallest possible margin. The phrase exemplifies the intense competition and the excitement that comes with a close finish in a race.

The origin of the idiom can be traced back to the early days of horse racing, where races were often decided by a photo finish. In such races, where the naked eye couldn't accurately determine the winner, a photograph was taken at the exact moment the horses crossed the finish line. This photograph was then carefully examined to determine which horse's nose was in front.

Over time, the idiom "win by a nose" has found its way into figurative usage beyond the realm of horse racing. It is now commonly used in various contexts to describe a victory achieved by the narrowest of margins. The idiom has become part of the English language, and its usage extends to different competitive situations, ranging from sports to business, politics, and even everyday life.

Neck and neck, she claimed the photo finish victory.

When someone uses the idiom "win by a nose," they are emphasizing the incredible closeness of a victory. It implies that the difference between success and failure was so tiny that it could be compared to the distance covered by a horse's nose. This idiom conveys the idea that even the smallest advantage can determine the outcome of a competition, and it celebrates the triumph of perseverance, skill, or luck in achieving that slim victory.

The idiom "nip and tuck" is related to "win by a nose." It is often used to describe a situation where the outcome of a competition is so close that it is difficult to determine who is winning. Just like in horse racing when the winning horse crosses the finish line with only a small distance separating it from the second-place horse, a "nip and tuck" situation implies that the competitors are neck and neck, with neither one having a clear advantage over the other.

Similarly, the idiom "snatch victory from the jaws of defeat" is also related to "win by a nose." It describes a situation where someone successfully turns a seemingly sure defeat into a victory at the very last moment. This is similar to a horse that, despite being behind for the majority of the race, manages to surge ahead and win by the narrowest of margins, almost snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

Lastly, "by a long shot" is another idiom that is related to "win by a nose." It is commonly used to describe a situation where something is not even close to being successful or achieving its goal. This is in contrast to "win by a nose," which implies an extremely narrow victory. While "win by a nose" celebrates the triumph of a small advantage, "by a long shot" emphasizes the distance between the winner and the rest of the competitors, highlighting the clear dominance of the victor.

All three idioms, "nip and tuck," "snatch victory from the jaws of defeat," and "by a long shot," capture the excitement and tension of a close contest, whether it be on a race track or in other areas of life. They remind us of the fine line between success and failure and the unpredictable nature of outcomes. While "win by a nose" focuses on the narrowness of a victory, "nip and tuck," "snatch victory from the jaws of defeat," and "by a long shot" offer different perspectives on the intensity and uncertainty of competitive situations.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "win by a nose" can be used in a sentence:

  • 1. He won the race by a nose, crossing the finish line just inches ahead of his competitors.
  • 2. The boxing match was intense, but the underdog managed to win by a nose in the final round.
  • 3. Despite facing tough competition, the film won the Oscar for Best Picture by a nose.

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