Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, March 6, 2014



My dear friend and fellow blogger, River, asked the other day 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 means to 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 eye teeth 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: OED, Etymonline, & Wordnik


  1. For me, "I'd go through pain for..." seems most probable. Given that your canines are a big part of your smile, losing them would be painful *and* somewhat embarrassing!

    I guessed "eyeable" to be something you look at with pleasure, but the rest I just blinked at.

  2. I always thought that expression came from the fact canines are most important in eating biting and tearing off meat, and in the England of the middle ages, meat was mostly super-tough, so they really needed those biting teeth in order to keep from starving. They also used the word "meat" to mean any kind of food, so I think they ate a lot of tough critters. But I've never actually read that anywhere, so I could be wrong.

  3. that "give my eyeteeth" is a hard one. I agree with Rachel, "I would go through pain" seems to make the most sense. I love "eyeable" and think I might just use it! "You look very eyeable today" could be nice noncommittal greeting.

  4. Hey Rachel6, Anne & Christine,
    I'm with A & C on eyeable -- great word & concept. Anne, your assumptions make sense to me -- the sort of thing I expected to find in my research, but couldn't. It was as though my research eyeteeth were missing & I just couldn't bite into anything.

  5. As soon as I finished your post, I was off to look in the mirror at the position of my eyeteeth relative to my eyes. The front of each lies just below the inner corners of my eyes. Now I'll be checking out everyone else's eyeteeth to see where they are positioned relative to their eyes. I wonder what the norm is. Thanks for another interesting tidbit.