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My eye! / My foot!

Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2005 1:41 am
by Ken Greenwald
A few weeks ago in the posting In a pig’s eye!, Shelley also asked about the history of the expressions MY EYE! and MY FOOT!

MY EYE! was a common expression when I was growing up and one my father seemed to use quite a bit more than my mother – maybe because there was a certain vulgarity associated with its use. However, I haven’t heard it used in years. It is a dismissive exclamation of emphatic denial that first appeared in print in 1842 and was used to indicate disbelief, as in ‘like hell,’ 'you can't be serious,' "that’s nonsense/bunk/baloney/rubbish," "in a pig’s eye!" <"You worked like a beaver all day? My eye, you did!">
<1842 “Church, MY EYE, woman! church indeed!”—‘Handy Andy’ by S. Lover, xvi>

<1871 “‘Nothing in the papers!’ Isn't there, though. MY EYE!”—‘Punch,’ 30 December, page 271/1>

<1905 “‘Tragic, MY EYE!’ said my friend irreverently.”—in ‘Works’ of O. Henry, page 1676>

<1928 “Gentlemen, ME EYE! You’ve got to get over being gentleman if you’re going to play football on my team!”—in ‘Sport’ by Paxton, page 128>

<1929 ‘How about Bigelow's Mill . .. that's a factory.’ ‘Factory MY EYE.’”—‘The Sound and the Fury’ by Faulkner, page 138>
Many etymologists say that MY EYE! comes from a British expression ALL MY EYE, meaning ‘All humbug’ ‘All nonsense’ or ‘All rubbish’ which was first recorded in 1768 in Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy The Good-Natured Man.
<1768 “That's ALL MY EYE—the king only can pardon.”—‘The Good-Natured Man’ by Goldsmith, II>

<1778 “They swore they’d make bold Pigot squeak, . . . / But that was ALL MY EYE, sir.”—‘Songs & Ballads of the Revolution' by F. Moore, page 233>

<1782 “That's ALL MY EYE, and my elbow, as the saying is.”—‘George Bateman,’ II. page 113>

<1805 “‘Tis ALL MY EYE.”—‘Port Folio,’ 24 August, page 261>

<1829 “‘Yes,’ said the man, ‘I knew that, but that’s what we call in our country [America] ‘ALL MY EYE’ [[nonsense]]”—‘Frank Mildmay’ by Marryat, page 292>
Beyond this things get a bit dicey. Some etymologists say that MY EYE! is a truncated form of the British expression with the same meaning ALL MY EYE AND BETTY MARTIN / THAT’S MY EYE, BETTY MARTIN, as opposed to being a shortening of ‘All my eye’ and no one knows for sure exactly where this ‘Betty Martin’ expression came from. Some say it was just a lengthening of ‘all my eye’ and others say that ‘all my eye’ is a shortening of the longer ‘Betty Martin’ phrase. ‘All my eye’ first appeared in print in 1768, whereas ‘All my eye and Betty Martin’ first appeared in 1781 and again in Grose’s 1785 A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue indicating that it had probably been around for some time. So, its not entirely clear which expression came first and which gave birth to the phrase in question – MY EYE!

It should be noted that MY EYE or MY EYES was also used to indicate surprise, astonishment, or an emphatic assertion. <"My eye, he actually passed!">. This meaning appeared in the early 1800s and remained in fashion until the 1930s, when it went out of style, and today it appears to be obsolete.
<1806 “MY EYES, how he mauled her!”— ‘Dictionary of Slang & Unconventional English’ (edition 6) by Partridge>

<1826 “MY EYE, what a spot for a ‘walky, walky.'”—‘Letters, 11 August’ of T. Creevey in “Creevey’s Life’ (1902) by J. Gore, x. page 226>

<1837 “‘MY EYES, how green!’ exclaimed the young gentle~man.”—‘Oliver Twist’ by Dickens, viii>

<1876 “To hear the crowd on a race-day call out.‘MY EYE, ain't she fit!’ just as if I were one of the mares.”—‘Winter City’ by Ouida, vi. page 124>

<1934 “MY EYE, but I’ve been all over that ground”—‘Tropic of Cancer’ by Henry Miller, page 45>
The origin of ALL MY EYE AND BETTY MARTIN / THAT’S MY EYE, BETTY MARTIN is considered by many to be one of the great mystery phrases of the English language, and as such, and since this discussion is getting a bit long, I will discuss this in a separate posting.

MY FOOT and its variation MY LEFT FOOT are also an expression of contemptuous contradiction and mean the the same thing as MY EYE!. MY FOOT first appeared as an expression of the Roaring Twenties in the form YOUR FOOT! soon morphing into MY FOOT! and MY LEFT FOOT!
<1923 “Mother: She was honest enough to tell me that . . . Father: Honest YOUR FOOT! She's fooled you—deceived you.”—‘Mary the Third’ by R. Crothers, II. ii. page 69>

<1925 “Judith : It's so silly to get cross at criticism—it indicates a small mind. David: Small mind MY FOOT!”—‘Hay Fever’ by Noel Coward, III>

<1928 “‘I thought he was doing a motor-tour.’ ‘Motor-tour YOUR FOOT!’ said the Inspector, with more energy than politeness.”—‘Lord Peter Views the Body’ by D. L. Sayers, xi. page 262>

<1945 “Cooperation MY FOOT. You're trying to trap me into admitting a motive for doing the old girl in.”—“Othello’s Occupation" by L. A. G. Strong, page 72>

<1961 “‘But it's a serious matter for you.’ ‘Serious MY FOOT. Why should I worry?’”—‘The Day of the Tortoise’ by H. E. Bates, page 55>
(Oxford English Dictionary, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Picturesque Expressions by Urdang, Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Chapman’s Dictionary of American Slang, Facts on File Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable)

Ken G – September 4, 2005