Thursday, September 21, 2006

Here, catch an eyeball!

One phrase my first beta reader caught in passing is "He dropped his eyes." She hates anyone using the noun eye/eyes when they mean gaze or look. "Did they bounce?" she asked.

Now, I will admit that I used to have no problem with the phrase. I reckoned using "eyes" in this way had passed into legitimate usage. We do say, for example, "Catch his eye" or "Keep an eye on" or " Run your eyes over this" or "Cast his eye in this direction" without the reader immediately having visions of playing ball with eyeballs or using them as worry beads.

So, tell me, can a writer say "He dropped his eyes" or "His eyes followed her" without the reader cracking up?

(Of course, having pointed this out to all of you who have never thought about it before, I have ensured that none of you are going to be able to read the phrase in the future without going "Eeeewww".)

So, will my hero be dropping his eyes in my latest book?
Nope. He will drop his gaze, and keep his eyeballs firmly in their sockets.


russell said...

Pah. Of course you can drop your eyes. In fact, over time, you can drop your whole face.

Kendall said...

It's fine. "He dropped his eyes" is an idiom! Taking literal meanings of individual words in an idiom (or metaphor) and stringing them together is the problem/fault of the overly literal (and/or mistakenly pedantic) reader, not the writer. (I think you've created a new pet peeve for me. ;-)

This is like the classic translation error where someone translates each word on its own to another language, instead of considering what the phrase means as a whole, in context, and then finding the best translation.

Books with no idioms, metaphors, or similes can be very dry reading....

Russell said...

Wouldn't 'He lowered his eyes' be open to the same criticism? Yet it's an accepted phrase, almost a cliche.

KarenEMiller said...

What works in conversation can sometimes not work so well in black and white print on the page. The potential absurdity of the visual image is highlighted in print, because in reading we are being asked to form mental pictures using the words as building blocks. That's not the case in conversation. Words are, for the most part, invisible then.

Simon Haynes said...

I use 'gaze' in print, even though I know what I mean when I write 'eyes' instead.
Problem is, Thogs Masterclass will getcha if you put eyes.
It's up to you - can you handle the exposure and publicity of such a public ribbing?

Glenda Larke said...

That's it exactly, Simon. There are people out there who will wince when they see "eyes" used like this, and I prefer it that readers don't wince (at least for grammatical/vocabulary reasons) when reading my books. So, even though I agree with Kendall and Russell, I will not drop the hero's eyes but drop "eyes" instead, even though I think it is an acceptable usage.

It's like using the word "kids" meaning children. Like the word "teenagers", it is thought to be modern American. Wrong. "Kids" got into print as early as the 16th century and was probably used orally much much earlier.

But I try not to use to because it jerks people out of my world into theirs.

kendall said...

Of course, "he dropped his gaze" can be poked fun at the same way. A gaze isn't about an impossibility.

Anyway, as a counterpoint to what Karen said, most people I know are much more apt to make fun of things in conversation that they wouldn't think twice about in print, the total opposite of what Karen describes.

For example, whenever a certain friend of mine hears the phrase "night falls" or "night fell" in our gaming group, he says, "Thud!" ;-) And yet he's just being silly in the context of our (frequently playful) group; he doesn't actually think it's a poor turn of phrase.

Of course, bad writing can make almost any sentence seem weird (not a problem for Glenda, of course).

Glenda Larke said...

:-D , Kendall!

Anonymous said...

"He decided to study the floor for a while."

"He suddenly became very interested in the dirt near his feet."

How about those LOL :)

ink paw prints said...

to be honest those eyes ones are more amusing (so long as you think of cartoon eyes). The expression that bugs me is the childhood phrase of:

"I beat him hollow!"