In all languages, there are words that do not mean exactly what they seem to mean. Consider the following phrases:
- Be on cloud nine
- Kill time
- Go the extra mile
- Be as cool as a cucumber
Technically, you could do these. It might be hard to get on a cloud, or kill time, though! However, native English speakers commonly use these expressions.
The reason is that these phrases are idiomatic – meaning that what they mean in conversation is not simply their literal meaning.
There is a denotation that tells what the phrases mean. These are the meanings of the idiomatic expressions above, respectively:
- To be very happy (After my sister got engaged our family was on cloud nine!)
- To pass time mostly by wasting it, while waiting for something (I had to kill some time before my job interview.)
- To do something extra that is not required (Because Kelsey went the extra mile on this project, I gave her the only perfect score in the class!)
- To be very calm (If you want to use her emotions to manipulate her, I want to warn you she is cool as a cucumber. It won’t work.)
There are idioms in many languages, and they cannot directly translate. The reason is that many of these idioms are based in culture. For example, being on cloud nine means that someone is extremely happy.
If you translated the phrase literally to any other language, speakers of that language would not take it to mean being very happy. They would be confused about someone being on a cloud!
Usage of idiomatic expressions
People use idioms for a variety of reasons. Most of the time, idioms and idiomatic expressions are informal. They convey a specific meaning that only a group of people that is like you in some way would understand.
Think of American idioms that do not mean exactly the same thing in British English! A person who could understand an idiom you use has a background more similar to you than someone who can’t understand it.
Combined with the colloquial nature of the words, they are important! In addition, idiomatic expressions can serve to emphasize the degree of a feeling.
For example, someone who is cool as a cucumber is extremely calm, and will not panic even when faced with a disaster.
Some common idiomatic expressions with Eye
1. Apple of my eye
Something that you value very highly:
- My daughter is the apple of my eye.
2. In my mind’s eye
Something that you imagine:
- In my mind’s eye, working online is like sipping cold drinks on a warm beach.
3. The eyes are the window to the soul
A saying that means you should be able to understand someone just by looking at them in the eye:
- I just need to see his eyes to know whether he is lying because the eyes are the window to the soul.
4. Bird’s eye view
To see something from up high, either figuratively or literally:
- From the bird’s eye view, this city just looks like a bunch of blocks with ants walking around.
- It looks like the new policies will decrease our compensation, but from the bird’s eye view it actually will have a positive effect in the long term.
5. Feast One’s Eyes on Something
To look at something very beautiful, wonderful, or something that you covet or admire a lot:
- I feasted my eyes on buffet laid out before me!
6. Cry One’s Eyes Out
To cry so much that you cannot cry anymore:
- When he heard his parents were in a serious car crash, he cried his eyes out before going to sleep.
7. Get a black eye
A black eye refers to what the bruising around your eye looks like if someone injures your eye:
- The playground fight resulted in three students who got a black eye.
8. Catch someone’s eye
If something appeals to a person, it catches their eye:
- I was walking down the street when the pink car caught my eye.
9. [To have] An eagle eye
Someone who has an eagle eye can spot mistakes even if they are very small, because the person is very perceptive:
- You have to have an eagle eye to be a book editor because books cannot be published if they have even one mistake!
10. Give Someone the Eye
If you want to send a message to someone without talking to them, you can give them the eye! Usually this means giving them a stern glance so that they know you are angry or disappointed at them.
- I thought about lying to my teacher but knowing that my mom would give me the eye if she found out made tell the truth instead.
11. Have Eyes Bigger than Your Stomach
Having eyes bigger than your stomach means that you look at and wish you could eat more food that you actually can.
- He has eyes bigger than his stomach, and always eats too much when we go to the buffet.
12. Have Eyes in the Back of One’s Head
This phrase describes someone who always seems to know what is happening, even if they are not there.
- I tried to pull a prank on my brother but my mother found out! It was like she had eyes in the back of her head.
13. In the Public Eye
Someone or something is in the public eye if lots of people are paying attention to it. This almost always requires media coverage.
- The actor is in the public eye now because of his arrest, but soon everyone will forget about him.
14. Turn a Blind Eye
Someone who turns a blind eye ignores something that is happening – usually something terrible, usually because they have something to gain:
- The police turn a blind eye to the drug smuggling operation because the drug lords pay the police chiefs every month.
15. Without Batting an Eye
Something that you do without batting an eye is something that you do not have to think about before doing it. This idiom is usually used to describe people who have views different from the majority:
- Mary did not even bat an eye when the tutor said that her hourly price would be $500/hour.
In this example, hiring someone for $500/hour is very rare. Because Mary did not even stop to think about it, the idiom draws attention to her wealth (or at least, her willingness to spend and invest in herself).