Batted An Eye: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
July 19, 2023

"Batted an Eye" is an idiomatic expression that typically indicates a quick reaction or sudden interest. It is often used in negative contexts, implying that no interest or reaction was shown.

In short:

  • When you use this idiom, you're referring to a swift, subtle response, usually to something surprising or unexpected.
  • However, when you use it in the negative form (as in "nobody batted an eye"), it means that no one showed any surprise, interest, or emotional reaction.

What Does "Batted an Eye" Mean?

The idiom “batted an eye” means to show a slight or subtle reaction, such as surprise, shock, interest, or emotion. It comes from the idea that blinking or fluttering one’s eyelids is a sign of being affected by something. For example: "If you would've batted an eye, I would have given you the position instead." This sentence means that if the person being addressed had shown interest or a reaction (batted an eye) to something, the speaker would have given them a certain position or opportunity.

However, the idiom is more commonly used in a negative form, such as “without batting an eye,” “not bat an eye,” or “not bat an eyelid.” In this case, it means to show no reaction at all, to be indifferent, unaffected, or unbothered by something. For example, if someone says, “He left without batting an eye, " it means the other person left without showing any regret, remorse, or hesitation.

Let's delve into its core meanings:

  • The idiom "batted an eye" means to show interest or reaction.
  • On the contrary, "didn't bat an eye" or "never batted an eye" implies the absence of a reaction, indicating indifference, lack of surprise, or acceptance of the situation.
  • Similar phrases to "batted an eye" include "blinked an eye," "flinched," or "raised an eyebrow."

Where Does "Batted an Eye" Come From?

"Batted an eye" originates from the physical act of batting one's eyes, a quick opening and closing of the eyelids often used as a signal of surprise or flirtation. The phrase has been in use since at least the 19th century, typically indicating a swift, almost imperceptible reaction.

Historical Example

"They certainly batted an eye when I saw this boat go through there, sir."

- Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations for 1961

10 Examples of "Batted an Eye" in Sentences

To understand how this idiom is used, let's examine it in various contexts:

  • She announced her decision to quit, and no one batted an eye.
  • He hung up on me without batting an eye. He didn’t care about my feelings at all.
  • Despite the abrupt changes, she never batted an eye and adapted quickly.
  • She had several burner accounts on social media, but she never batted an eye when I caught her.
  • The news was so shocking that everyone batted an eye.
  • Apropos of nothing, she batted her eyes in a bewildering fashion.
  • Nobody batted an eye when she walked into the room in her extravagant outfit.
  • Upon seeing the scrud, the normally squeamish Jane didn't bat an eye.
  • When the celebrity entered, everybody batted an eye.
  • He was freeballing and never batted an eye when the principal questioned him.

Examples of "Batted an Eye" in Pop Culture

The phrase "batted an eye" is frequently used in literature, film, and television to describe a lack of reaction or sudden interest.

Here are some examples:

  • A quote from the 2014 book All Seeing Eye by Rob Thurman: "I could've said you'll meet a tall, dark alien who will carry you off to his mothership to be his egg-laying hive queen, and they wouldn't have batted an eye. "
  • The book An Anger at Birth by J.E. Mayer also uses the phrase: "No one batted an eye as Scott helped himself to long pulls on the pipe when it was passed to him."
  • The comedy film The Women (1939) also includes the phrase: "No, my little pet, but of trying to! I'd like to see Howard bat an eye at another woman!"

Other/Different Ways to Say "Batted an Eye"

There are several other expressions that convey a similar meaning to "batted an eye" or its negative counterpart.

Here are a few:

  • Turned a blind eye
  • Blinked an eye
  • Flinch
  • Raised an eyebrow
  • Didn't twitch
  • Showed no surprise
  • Showed a reaction
  • Didn't wince

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Batted an Eye":

  • What does "batted an eye" mean?

"Batted an eye" typically indicates a quick reaction or sudden interest. However, when used in a negative context, it signifies a lack of reaction or interest.

  • How can I use "batted an eye" in a sentence?

You can use "batted an eye" to indicate a subtle reaction or lack thereof. For example, "She didn’t bat an eye when she saw him again. He was the one that got away, but she had moved on with her life."

  • Where does the idiom "batted an eye" come from?

"Batted an eye" comes from the physical action of quickly opening and closing the eyes, often used as a signal of surprise or flirtation.

  • Can you use it in personal contexts?

Yes, "batted an eye" can be used in personal contexts to indicate surprise, interest, or a lack of reaction.

  • Can "batted an eye" refer to a large reaction?

Typically, "batted an eye" suggests a small, subtle reaction rather than a large, overt one. However, context is essential for understanding the exact intent.

  • Can "batted an eye" be used in the positive?

Yes, "batted an eye" can be used to suggest interest or intrigue. For example, "He batted an eye at the promising new opportunity."

  • Can "batted an eye" be used formally?

Yes, "batted an eye" is versatile and can be used in both informal and formal contexts. However, its use should be tailored to the tone and requirements of the situation.

  • Is "batted an eye" used worldwide?

While "batted an eye" is a widely understood phrase, it is more commonly used in English-speaking regions. Its usage may not be as prevalent in non-English speaking countries.

  • Does "batted an eye" imply disrespect?

"Batted an eye" does not inherently imply disrespect. It usually indicates surprise, interest, or a lack of reaction. However, the context it's used in can modify its connotations.

  • What are some synonyms for "batted an eye"?

Some synonyms for "batted an eye" include "blinked an eye," "turned a blind eye," "didn't flinch," "didn't raise an eyebrow," "didn't twitch," and "showed no surprise."

Final Thoughts About "Batted an Eye"

The idiom "batted an eye" provides a nuanced way to convey reaction or lack thereof in various contexts. This phrase accurately mirrors the subtleties of human responses, whether it's showing interest, surprise, or the absence of reaction.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Batted an eye" is used to describe a quick reaction or, conversely, a lack of reaction to a situation or event.
  • You can use it in both personal and professional settings.
  • The idiom doesn't always reflect a significant emotional response—it often subtly implies interest or indifference, depending on the context.

This phrase is a testament to the richness of the English language in expressing the intricacies of human reactions, affirming that language can indeed mirror the complexities of our emotions and responses.

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