I came across this idiom and can understand from the dictionaries that it refers to X disregarding Y.

In my language using “nose’s length” would literally say: “one can see one’s nose’s length” or “one knows one’s nose’s length”, which means that one is aware of his/her own level, generally, or in a specific field, this having no relation or connotation of disregard but simply it’s about self awareness.

My question is if in English we can use “to look down one’s nose at oneself”. I think that even if it were used would mean that one shows disregard to oneself, which is not what I’m looking for.

Is there an equivalent idiom in English which shows the awareness of one's own level?

  • BTW, the English idiom "to look down one's nose at" means something stronger: "to express arrogant contempt towards". It's actually somewhat literal: it describes a person lifting their chin and, literally, looking down the length of their nose at the other person, so that what the other person sees is up into their nostrils, and their eyes half-lidded. This is a posture of extreme superciliousness. (So, no, one couldn't look down one's nose at oneself.) Also see the related idiom "nose in the air", which refers to the same thing. May 10, 2014 at 4:34
  • There is an idiom that has to do with being measured, but by other people. "I like the cut of your jib" means something like "I like your style (re: appearance or way of thinking)". en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cut_of_one's_jib
    – Merk
    May 10, 2014 at 6:24
  • Thank you for all your excellent answers. All of them are very valuable and useful. Because of a regrettable omission I mislead many of you. It’s my bad. I omitted to say in my question about the connotation which is one of humility, of knowing one’s place and thus not trying to punch above one’s weight. I am very sorry! May 10, 2014 at 9:39

6 Answers 6


The most common idiom I can think of is "Knowing your place." I believe this is a direct analogue, although it tends to have a negative connotation in my experience.


It’s not very common, but I believe the idiom “know your onion” is exactly what you seek:

know one's onions, Slang. to know one's subject or business thoroughly; be capable or proficient.
Source: Dictionary.com definition of “know one's onions”

  • In nearly 40 years of life I have never heard this phrase used. If one were to use it one would most certainly have to explain it - in which case one might as well just use the explanation and forget the phrase.
    – Sam Axe
    May 10, 2014 at 3:07
  • @Dan-o It might be coming back... it is the title of a fairly popular Shins song. May 10, 2014 at 4:09
  • but this doesn't have to do with self-awareness
    – Merk
    May 10, 2014 at 6:15

You could say that someone

knows enough not to try to punch above his (her) weight.

Here to "punch above one's weight" is something close to the opposite of the idiom you are looking for.


We have a word for that in English: "humility".


I have no idiom to suggest, but I want to put to your attention the following definition, metacognition whose use has been increasing since the 80's.


Metacognition is defined as "cognition about cognition", or "knowing about knowing". It comes from the root word "meta", meaning beyond.1 It can take many forms; it includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem solving.


Self awareness is the closest term I can think of. However that term implies a more general awareness of self - one's place in the world/universe rather than a specific awareness of one's place in their field of employment.

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