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This sentence is found in Mozart's Opera "Die Entführung aus dem Serail". Sample text link you can find this sentence at the first line.

Könnt' ich mir doch noch so einen Schurken auf die Nase setzen, wie den Pedrillo

Osmin, the bad guy in this Opera, dislikes Pedrillo very much. Some English translations go like I could just do with another rascal like Pedrillo. I think this is generally OK, but I can't quite understand the meaning of auf die Nase setzen.

Apparently there is nothing to do with "Put it on the nose".

I searched but I couldn't find a good translation to convince myself:

  • "On the nose" in English sometimes can mean "Precisely, Exactly", but I'm not sure if it is the same in German.

  • On the other hand, I discovered a similar phrase jmdm. jmdn., etw. vor die Nase setzen which meaning is related to Vorsetzen, "make someone someone's boss", which is also kind of hard to translate. If these two phrases are the same, can it be translated to as "If only I can be the boss of the rascal like Pedrillo"?

What would be a good translation for auf die Nase setzen? As well as the whole sentence?

2 Answers 2

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The expression "sich jemanden auf die Nase setzen" isn't used any more.

In Grimm's Wörterbuch, you'll still find these closely related idioms (not used any more either):

einem auf der nase sein, sitzen, liegen: in unmittelbarer und belästigender nähe sein; (be in immediate and annoying proximity)

and:

einem auf die nase kommen: ihn treffen, überfallen (to hit or assault someone): e.g. "ich will nicht sagen, dasz ich es (unglück) ihm gönnen mag, aber recht ist, dasz dem auch mal was auf die nase kommt. Gotthelf Uli d. pächter (1859) 318."

There are some other related idioms that are still common today:

jemandem auf der Nase herumtanzen (to pester someone, to disrespect someone by doing annoying things, e.g. in the sense of kids pestering their parents who are not able to control them)

jemandem etwas auf die Nase binden (to make something inevitably obvious to someone, e.g. "Du musst Anna ja nicht gleich auf die Nase binden, dass du sie nicht magst.")

So my understanding of the idiom "sich jemanden auf die Nase setzen" from the opera is that once you "sat someone on your nose" or let them sit there, they "sit on your nose" (sitzen dir auf der Nase), meaning they are pestering/annoying you (according to Grimm).

So, overall, the English translation you gave in the question is quite good, just not very explicit about the pestering/annoying part.

You could translate it as:

I could just have another rascal like Pedrillo around, pestering me.

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  • Vielen Dank! das ist sehr hilfreich
    – xing
    Dec 2, 2023 at 15:28
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The phrase auf die Nase setzen is uncommon nowadays. Common is however the phrase vor die Nase setzen.

It's meant quite literally. They put something or someone right in front of you so it blocks your forward-directed actions. You are slowed down, and that's the apparant purpose of that gig. That thing or person is not necessarily your boss but most likely so. A boss uncalled for.

Zwanzig Jahre arbeite ich hier schon, und ihr setzt mir dieses Küken vor die Nase.

I work here since twenty years and you put that chick right in front of me.

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  • Perhaps better "I work here since twenty years and you put that chick right in my way."
    – vonbrand
    Dec 2, 2023 at 15:57

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