Some time ago my dear friend River asked about the idiom I’d give my eyeteeth for… To my surprise, information about its origins are scarce, but there sure is a heap of information about related words.
It seems the idiom to give one’s eyeteeth… has been around since 1836 or earlier. Eyeteeth are generally referred to as canines, those pointy ones directly beneath the eyes. Some etymologists submit that the extraction of the eyeteeth is more painful than the extraction of other front teeth (due to very long roots), suggesting the meaning I’d take some pain for… Others connect it with some earlier eyeteeth idioms: to cut one’s eyeteeth, which refers to a person growing up from babyhood to childhood, to draw the eyeteeth out of someone, which meansto pull the conceit out of someone, & to have one’s eyeteeth, which means to be fully conscious. If the idiom in question grew out of any of these, it could mean I’d give up my youth for…, I’d become humble for…, or I’d give up my consciousness for… Do any of these resonate for you? Why? Please weigh in on this in the comments section.
Figuring highly in the eyeteeth idioms is the word eye, which takes up four full pages of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and is followed by another four pages of eye-related words. A few of these related words are eyeable, eyeleteer, eyebree, eyethurl & eyey (no kidding). Please ponder possible meanings before reading on…
Eyeable appeared in English in 1839 and has two meanings: that which can be seen with the naked eye or an item that can be looked upon with pleasure.
An eyeleteer is a stabbing implement one uses for making eyelets – something like an awl. This word came to the language in 1874.
Eyebree entered the language as early as 1000. It means eyelid & is the grandmother of our modern word, eyebrow.
Many modern homes are equipped with an eyethurl, which came to English in 890. An eyethurl is that tiny eye-sized window in some front doors.
In 1884 the word eyey was born. It means full of eyes. One must wonder what context required the invention of the word. Critters approaching a fire at night? Bats in the belfry? Very old potatoes?
What proposed eyeteeth idioms resonate best for you? What brilliant possible meanings did you image for the related eye words? Please leave a comment.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Collins Dictionary, OED, Etymonline, & Wordnik
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.