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In the movie "The Shawshank Redemption", a scene goes like this:

[Fat Ass] (whimpering) God! I don't belong here!

[Men Yelling] We have a winner!

[Fat Ass] I wanna go home!

[Heywood] And it's fat ass by a nose!

What does "fat ass by a nose" mean here?

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5 Answers 5

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It just means they're picking on him, declaring him the close winner of an 'imaginary' run (survive in this hardest place, escape from jail, be set free/paroled and go home...). Most of them are sentenced to life with no hope to win any race but death in prison.

We have a winner, and it's fat ass by a nose!

"This expression has spread to all different sports as a metaphor for a close contest even though a nose isn't the first body part to cross the finish line in most human competitions. However, a horse's nose is first over the line at the racetrack and is used as the reference for judging the victor. In racing parlance a “nose” also refers to the smallest margin of victory allowed for a horse to be officially declared the winner. Races won by a nose may also have been fought “neck and neck” as the horses ran side by side all the way to the end."

Source : History - horse racing


Here's the part where they laugh and make fun of him because he's desesperate ("I don't belong here!") and breaking down. In a race to survive in this prison, this weak guy has close to zero chance. He's that nag you wouldn't bet anything on, except for breaking down. That's what happens and sadistic corrupt head guard Byron Hadley1 beats him to death.


1. Later, according to Red, Hadley cried like a baby when he was arrested and convicted, most likely because he would be jailed in the same prison and would face retaliation from all the prisoners he abused for years and the murders.

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    The other inmates were betting on which of the new inmates would break first. There was no imaginary run.
    – Legion600
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 6:37
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    The examples in your edit are the opposite of what they were betting on. They were betting on who was going to break down crying the first night after realizing they had flushed their whole life away.
    – Legion600
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 7:20
  • 20
    This answer is wrong. It doesn’t just mean they are picking on him. The whole point is the bet about which new inmate will cry first. The comment is not directed at Fat Ass, it’s directed at the betting inmates. Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 11:23
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    This is the part that is most wrong: “an 'imaginary' run (survive in this hardest place, escape from jail, be set free/paroled and go home...)” The “imaginary run” is about which of the new inmates will cry first. Not anything else. Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 12:01
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    Imaginary is not the best word here. The contest is real. The "run" is metaphorical. No actual run or noses are involved. But no one is pretending they are. Just using a metaphor to say it was a close contest. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 15:07
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In the scene you are referring to from "The Shawshank Redemption", "fat ass by a nose" is a humorous expression used by the inmates to declare the winner of a bet they had made on a race between two fellow inmates, including Fat Ass.

"Fat ass by a nose" is a reference to a horse race, where the winning horse is determined by the length of its nose. In this context, it means that Fat Ass won the race by a very small margin, possibly just a nose's length.

The expression is used in a humorous way in the movie to emphasize the absurdity of the situation and to lighten the mood of the tense prison environment.

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    @Legion600 You’re talking about the exact same thing. The race they bet on is the race to see who would break first. Just because the racers do not want to “reach the end” (metaphorically) does not mean it can’t be called a race. Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 11:22
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    It's not really "humorous". It shows the callousness of the inmates, that they were putting bets on other people's trauma. Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 1:48
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    @ToddWilcox The phrase "bet between ... Fat Ass" means that Fat Ass was one of the people who made a bet, not that the bet was regarding Fat Ass. Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 1:48
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    Is this a ChatGPT answer? Because it honestly reads like that. Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 11:51
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    "...the winning horse is determined by the length of its nose" This is weird wording, the winning horse is determined by which horse's nose crosses the line first, the "by a nose" part is that the second place horse may be right next to the first horse and cross with its nose just behind the first horse's nose. So the nose is being used as a measure of length, not the other way around. Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 12:07
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"Fat Ass" is the nickname given by the other prisoners to the prisoner who broke down and cried. "By a nose" is a common phrase in sporting events which means that the winner of a race or contest just barely won (referring to the idea that the length of a horse's nose is how much they won the race by).

The other inmates were betting on who would break down and cry first, and "Fat Ass" was the first to do so. So the prisoner was saying that Fat Ass "won" the "race" of first to break down and cry.

Separating "Fat Ass" (the character's nickname) from "by a nose" (the expression) is necessary for understanding it correctly; "fat ass by a nose" is not in itself an expression.

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    "by a nose" literally means that the distance between the first and second place horses is just the length of a nose.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 19:40
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    @Barmar indeed, the "horse's nose crossing the finish line before the rest of the horse" is not at all relevant because that is true no matter what the outcome of the race may be.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 11:11
  • @phoog Unless it runs backwards: youtube.com/watch?v=BPyq0dO6tYI
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 15:59
  • I edited to be more accurate with my description.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 19:22
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Amazing how many partial/incorrect answers there are here.

The first reference is in response to him saying "I don't belong here", the response "We have a winner" refers to the idea that many people before him have said "I don't belong here", and that this is a "Big Point" answer like in a game show (Family Feud etc.)

The second reference "By a nose" is a reference to Horse Racing, where a pundit may describe one Horse as "winning by a nose" meaning that the margain by which it has won is very small (a nose length). As horse racing pre-dates slow-motion cameras, this was considered a high degree of accuracy/small margain. This is not as clever a reference, but just piling onto the idea that he has won.

Here it is being used as a metaphor to describe "Fat Ass's" breakdown as being the winning breakdown, and his prize is a beating.

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  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 20:33
  • Slow motion cameras are not the best way to record race finishes and haven't been used for that purpose since the middle of the 20th century.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 11:16
  • Thanks Captain Tangent, but since horse racing has been around in the UK since the 1700s I'd say my description was perfectly accurate.
    – Josh
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 15:07
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In horse racing, "nose" is one of several ways to describe a distance shorter than a length, which is the length of a horse. The winner of the race is said to win by a certain distance, which describes the position of the horse in second place when the winning horse reaches the finish line. If the second horse's nose is even with the winning horse's tail, the horse has won "by a length." If the race is closer, the distance could be half a length, a neck, a head, or -- closest of all -- a nose.

An announcer describing a race, for example for a radio broadcast, will describe the horses' positions relative to each other and to the track, often using "and it's..." to indicate the ultimate outcome of the race.

What does "fat ass by a nose" mean here?

As others have noted, it's Fat Ass by a nose means that Fat Ass has won the race, but just barely.

Now I looked for some videos to illustrate this, but had some trouble finding them; I guess that as television broadcasting of races has become more common there has been reduced demand for the announcer to describe the distances. In 1973, however, the word "length" is in full display, along with (uncontracted) "it is...," as Secretariat wins the Preakness.

See also Who Won? (1923) and The 2016 Belmont Stakes - Creator wins by a nose for "by a nose."

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  • This adds nothing to the accepted answer.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 12:28
  • The accepted answer doesn't explain that "by a nose" (or by any other measure of length) refers to the distance between the winner and the second place finisher.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 19:48

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