"Keep your eye peeled" slight antedating (1848) "keep your eyes skinned" (1831)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Dec 4 10:56:27 UTC 2009

While driving with family members during the Thanksgiving holiday I
was told to keep my eyes peeled for a particular road sign. Back in
2000 in the ADS list archives Larry Horn wondered about the phrase:
"Can that be right?  Do people really keep their eyes peeled? pealed?
And why?  I can't find either sense in my AHD!"

Michael Quinion at World Wide Words discusses the phrase and says,
"The figurative sense of keeping alert, by removing any covering of
the eye that might impede vision, seems to have appeared in the US
about 1850."


The OED has the phrase and another phrase "to keep one's eyes
skinned". The entries for peeled and skinned were revised recently.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1997) suggests that both
phrases are "alluding to the lids not covering the eyes"


(OED DRAFT REVISION Sept. 2009) peeled, adj. b. orig. U.S. colloq. to
keep one's eyes peeled and variants: to remain alert, be on the
lookout; to watch carefully for.

OED cite is 1852. This can be antedated to 1848.

Citation: 1848, March, "The Cruise of the Gentile" by Frank Byrne,
Graham's Magazine, page 136, No. 3, Vol. 32, Philadelphia.

"'We take no note of time,'" spouted the third mate, drawing his watch
from his pocket. "For'ard, there! strike four bells, and relieve the
wheel. Keep your eye peeled, look out; and mind, no caulking."


(OED DRAFT REVISION Sept. 2009) skinned, adj. colloq. (orig. U.S.) to
keep one's eyes skinned and variants: to keep a sharp lookout, watch
carefully for. Cf. to keep one's eyes peeled at PEELED adj. 1b, to
skin one's eyes at SKIN v. Phrases 3.

OED cite is 1833. This can be antedated to 1831 by a diary entry in a
report made to the U.S. Senate.

Citation: Public Documents Printed By Order of the Senate of the
United States, First Session of the Twenty-Second Congress, page 36,
No. 5, Alphonso Wetmore's Report, Franklin, Missouri, October 11,

"Keep your eyes skinned now," said the old trapper. We are now
entering upon the most dangerous section of the trace, the war ground
of the Panis, Osages, and Kansas.



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