I was surprised by the use of eyewatering to describe the huge amount of money involved in the Malaysian corruption case brought against the previous Prime Minister.


Mouth-watering I knew, and eye-popping,  but not eyewatering.  To me the things that make your mouth water are delicious things that you are about to eat, so mouth-watering is associated with a sense of happy anticipation. The things that make your eyes pop are things that astonish you.  It reminded me of this line from Hilaire Belloc: ‘Matilda told such dreadful lies, it made you gasp and stretch your eyes’.  Our eyes widen in surprise, astonishment and, perhaps, admiration.


The things that make your eyes water are grief and pain (as from stinging smoke or the like).  But I have to accept that eyewatering as a sign of astonishment is perfectly possible. It is an Americanism of the 1950s. Eyewatering prices.The notion is that any painfully strong emotion will bring tears to the eyes, so astonishment, excitement or shock will do the trick. It may not be in my lexicon but it is certainly out there.

Sue ButlerComment