Michiel Sweerts, Boy in a Turban Holding a Nosegay (between 1658 and 1662; sense 1)[n 1]

From Late Middle English nōsegai (?),[1] from nōse (nose) (from Old English nosu,[2] ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *nas- (nose)) + gai (a bright or gay object; an ornament)[3] (from Old French gai (cheerful, gay, happy)); equivalent to nose +‎ gay.



nosegay (plural nosegays)

  1. A small bunch of fragrant flowers or herbs tied in a bundle, often presented as a gift; nosegays were originally intended to be put to the nose for the pleasant sensation or to mask unpleasant odours. [from 15th c.]
    Synonym: posy
    • 1593, Tho[mas] Nashe, “Here Beginneth the First Epistle and First Booke of Orator Gabriell to the Catilinaries or Philippicks”, in The Apologie of Pierce Pennilesse. Or, Strange Newes, of the Intercepting Certaine Letters: [], London: [] Iohn Danter, [], OCLC 222196160; republished as John Payne Collier, editor, Strange Newes, of the Intercepting Certaine Letters [] (Miscellaneous Tracts; Temp. Eliz. and Jac. I), [London: s.n., 1870], OCLC 906587369, page 17:
      [N]o more is Pierce Pennileſſe to be cald the Devils Orator for making a Supplication to the Devill, than hee is to bee helde for a Rhethoritian for ſetting foorth Gabrielis Scurvei Rhetor, wherein hee thought to have knockt out the braines of poore Tullies Orator, but in veritie did nothing elſe, but gather a flauntinge unſavory ſore-horſe noſegay out of his well furniſhed garland.
    • 1791 March, “Art. XV. Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales, with Sixty-five Plates of Non-descript Animals, Birds, Lizards, Serpents, Curious Cones of Trees, and Other Natural Productions. By John White, Esq; Surgeon-general to the Settlement. 4to. pp. 334. 1l. 16s. Boards. Debrett. 1790.”, in The Monthly Review; or, Literary Journal, Enlarged, volume IV, London: Printed for R[alph] Griffiths; and sold by T[homas] Becket, in Pall Mall, OCLC 901376714, page 315:
      Mr. [John] White joins with the reſt of his fellow-voyagers, in vindicating the characters of the Portugueſe ladies from the indiſcriminate cenſure which is caſt on them in Dr. Hawkſworth's account of Captain [James] Cook's firſt voyage: we muſt therefore conclude, that Dr. [Daniel] Solander, and the two gentlemen who were with him, muſt have miſtaken the intent of the noſegays which were ſo plentifully beſtowed on them by the ladies, from their balconies, as they walked through the ſtreets of this place in the evening.
    • 1913 February, Elizabeth [Kimball] Kendall, “The Chien-Ch’ang”, in A Wayfarer in China: Impressions of a Trip across West China and Mongolia, Boston, Mass.; New York, N.Y.: Houghton Mifflin Company; The Riverside Press Cambridge [Mass.], OCLC 191030732, page 79:
      Late on this same day the trail crossed a bare, rocky hillside, at one point passing between masses of stone ruins; something like a tower to the right, and on the left a sort of walled enclosure. I had lingered behind to gather a nosegay of the small blue flowers that marked the day's march.
    • 1918, W[illiam] B[abington] Maxwell, chapter XXXIX, in The Mirror and the Lamp, Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, OCLC 4293071, page 307:
      At the far end of the houses the head gardener stood waiting for his mistress, and he gave her strips of bass to tie up her nosegay. This she did slowly and laboriously, with knuckly old fingers that shook.
    • a. 1969, John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces, Penguin, published 1981, →ISBN, page 94:
      Tacked to Miss Trixie's desk was a large sign that said miss trixie with an old-fashioned nosegay drawn in crayon in one corner.
  2. (figuratively) An aroma, a scent.
    • 2007 September 11, Donald G[erald] McNeil, Jr., “In India, a quest to ease the pain of the dying”, in The New York Times[1], archived from the original on 22 March 2018:
      The 80-year-old Government Opium and Alkaloid Works in Neemuch smells better than it looks. The turfy-chocolaty nosegay of raw opium wafts from hundreds of milk cans.



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  1. ^ From the collection of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, Spain.


  1. ^ nosegay”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  2. ^ nōse, n.(1).”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 29 April 2018.
  3. ^ gai, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 29 April 2018.

Further readingEdit