To count the number of people in a group to ensure that everyone is present. Everyone, take your seats on the bus so that I can count noses before we leave the museum.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
Also, count heads. Reckon up the number of those present. For example, The theater seemed only half-full, so the producer decided to count noses, or Our tour leader was always careful to count heads before the bus started off. This idiom was originally put as tell noses. [Mid-1600s]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
count nosescount people, typically in order to determine the numbers in a vote.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
count noses, to
To determine the number of persons present. The term may come from horse dealers, who count their stock by the nose (whereas cattle dealers count by the “head”). However, it has been around a long time, since the seventeenth century, when it was sometimes put as “to tell noses.” In 1711 the earl of Shaftesbury, a moral philosopher who studied with John Locke, wrote, “Some modern zealots appear to have no better knowledge of truth, nor better manner of judging it, than by counting noses” (Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times).
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer