To be led by the nose is to be dominated or controlled by someone or something. To lead someone by the nose is to dominate or control them.
led (verb) – past tense and past participle of ‘lead’
Examples of use:
1. He was led by the nose by his father for years.
2. Should politicians lead the way, or should they be led by the nose by the voters?
This phrase probably originates from the practice of leading horses by a bridle, and bulls and bears by a ring through the nose.
The nose is one of the most sensitive parts of an animal and a nose ring helps handlers to control powerful and potentially dangerous animals.
The phrase ‘led by the nose‘ appears in Shakespeare’s play, Othello, in Act 1 Scene 3 line 395.*
The character Iago declares that he will use Othello’s (The Moor’s) trusting and honest character to easily lead him to believe that his wife has been unfaithful:
The Moor is of a free and open nature, That thinks men honest but that seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by th’nose
As asses are.
In 1603-4 when this play was first written / performed, ‘tenderly’ meant willingly or without much difficulty.
Shakespeare was an English playwright and poet. He was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon in England.
For more advanced learners
The PlayShakespeare.com website has a complete list of Shakespeare’s plays, with outlines of the plays, lists of characters and the full texts of the plays.
Some play texts are also available in languages other than English.
You have to register on the site to download the files but this is easy to do, and the site is easy to use.
The site also has podcasts on related Shakespeare topics and interesting biographical information about Shakespeare.
Thank you to @NitaJoy and @Essex_courier on Twitter for suggesting this idiom
*Ref: Othello (Penguin Shakespeare)
Image by andy_carter