Thursday, April 28, 2011

Keep Your Eyes....Hang on, What?

If you see a friend with something nice, and you ask them where they got it, you'll usually be met with one of two answers: "only two quid in Penneys*", or "Oh, I got it in this lovely little out-of-the-way boutique in America that sells vintage one-of-a-kind trinkets, sorry." If it's the second answer, then you make a mental note to keep your eyes peeled for something similar the next time you're browsing. Something like this pretty brooch, for example (any excuse to post a picture of a shiny silver thing):


Hang on - do WHAT to your eyes? PEEL THEM? How many times have you used this expression without actually thinking about it? Have you ever wondered where these type of sayings come from? This one, in particular, intrigued me, so here's the story behind it.

The actual source of the expression is debatable. Some claim that it originated in America around the year 1850 and came from the Latin word "pill" (originally meaning 'to plunder', but later meaning 'to remove or strip'). So literally, keeping your eyes stripped, or keeping your eyelids open and your eyes uncovered.
Others claim that it was first used in 1833 on the frontier in its previous form "keep your eyes skinned". Others, still, claim that it originated in London in the 1820s and came from the 'peelers' or 'bobbies' - the police officers of the first organised police force established by Robert Peel.

Happy now? Nope, me either. I was hoping for something far more macabre and/or interesting than just a literal meaning. So, I give you the story of Bodhidharma and the origin of tea.

That's Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen. Legend has it that he faced a cave wall for nine years, constantly meditating. He had great battles with his sleep - he fought as hard as he could to remain conscious even when asleep. One night, he felt that it was impossible to keep awake - he was definitely going to fall asleep. He cut his eyelids off and threw them away - now there was no way he would fall asleep. On the spot where they landed, a small sprout began to grow - said to be the first tea plant.

Tea was originally regarded as a medicinal beverage, and was limited to the ceremonial and medicinal needs of the elite. My, how times change.



*Penneys: Primark, or any other cheap store selling clothing, accessories & home furnishings

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