Eyes! They’re windows onto the soul, which is a problem, because souls are disgusting. That’s where we keep our pettiness and jealousy and unfounded rage, is it not? But all that mess can also make it difficult to parse the language of the eyes — a slippery, passive-aggressive, often rogue vector of communication. Lately I’ve noticed some muddling of related eye movements, and I’d like to set down a clear lexicon for them.
So from now on, this is what each of these “eye” terms mean. Do not argue with me.
Classic, entry-level eye stuff, although nobody does it better than a 13-year-old girl who has just discovered its power. While the eye-roll today signals disdain and exasperation with a person or circumstance, it meant something totally different only a few decades ago. From Shakespeare’s day up through the 1950s, it could suggest passion, greed, and lust — as in moments of orgasmic ecstasy. Outside the sack, however, it’s perceived as rude and immature, not to mention a gesture of impotent rebellion: The eye-roller is typically resigned to enduring whatever annoyance caused the reaction. That was the case, it seems, for Darrin Nunnery, a North Carolina man who rolled his eyes at his wife when she asked him to buy a $2 lottery ticket; he did nonetheless, and they won the $25,000-a-year jackpot. Nunnery quipped that “The rolling my eyes is over.” [Eye roll.]
The Hairy Eyeball
First of all, do not image search this one unless you are into body horror. Contrary to those results, “the hairy eyeball” is not when you get an errant hair stuck in your eye. Instead it describes a cutting glance (or outright glare) of extreme disapproval. Very useful in crowded settings where getting close enough to your target to throw a drink in their face would present an inconvenient challenge. Lower your lids and forehead somewhat — the lashes and eyebrows are what make this “hairy” — and shoot daggers from your slitted eyes. There should be notes of suspicion and resentment, but remember that this is a maneuver of prejudice and tribalism: It says, “What are you doing here, asshole?” Like if you had a neighbor whose home was mistakenly raided because police thought he was a drug lord, and even after the matter was cleared up, you wanted to treat him like a criminal every time he left the house. That’s hairy as hell.
The Stink Eye
Often confused with the hairy eyeball, the stink eye is far more versatile and not necessarily as hostile. In fact, while it may manifest in similar fashion, it is used to convey the processing of unpleasant data, not predetermined anger. Here, one eye may squint as the other widens, the eyebrows tend to arch a bit, the nose usually wrinkles, and the rest of the face plays a larger role in general. But the stink eye is, most importantly, almost identical to the countenance triggered when smelling a fart of indeterminate origin. It encompasses the same confusion, disgust, and panicked sense of random assault: Where did that come from? On its own, the stink eye signals little beyond a mounting disquiet, but beware, as this can easily lead to something like…
Side-eye is among the most devastating moves in the ocular repertoire these days, largely thanks to its popularity in social media culture, where it is heavily associated with the concept of “shade,” a stealthy and ambiguous form of spiritual dominance. Wherever a bad take is being tweeted, you can count on side-eye GIF replies, and whenever a “relatable” celebrity has to sit next to someone saying dumb shit, they’ll provide some side-eye for new GIFs. The key mood for this is mistrust, reproach, and disbelief filtered through a clear desire to escape the situation, which is why children are so adept at it. For a recent example, see Draymond Green Jr.’s reaction to a sportscaster as his dad gave a post-game interview following the Golden State Warriors’ advancement to the NBA Finals. This was all it took to become the center of attention, and proof of side-eye’s value in gaining the upper hand during TV appearances.
Looking Directly at the Camera Like You’re Jim Halpert from ‘The Office’
You can only do this if you are Jim Halpert from NBC’s long-running sitcom The Office.
The Evil Eye
Few can master the evil eye; most who attempt it end up flashing some variation of the hairy eyeball. That’s because the evil eye is less about the mechanics of the stare and more the intangible yet unmistakable malevolence behind it. Properly speaking, the person casting an evil eye has not “done” anything to their rival, nor disclosed their hatred with anything so expressively obvious as the tics listed above, but the victim will feel as if an ancient curse has been placed upon them regardless. This nebulously visual transference of ill will leads to significant disagreement regarding when and why the evil eye has been activated. The Real Housewives, you may recall, have often disputed this exact point. Suffice it to say, the evil eye is more than a look — it is to look right through another person and leave a lasting scar. Best to leave it to true witches.