Eyelid batting

The other day a friend asked me about the origins of the phrase “to bat an eyelid”, which is normally used in the negative – he didn’t bat an eyelid at the pink elephant in the fridge – and means that you don’t react or show emotion when surprised or shocked. Or in other words, you took it in your stride. We wondered way it’s ‘bat’, which seems a strange thing to do with your eyelids.

The same verb is used in the phrase “to bat ones eyes/eyelashes”, meaning to open and close your eyes very quickly several times, intending to be attractive to someone [source].

According to the OED, the verb to bat is a variant of bate (to flutter as a hawk), from the Old French batre (to contend, fight, strive, flutter), from the late Latin batĕre/battĕre, from the classical Latin batuĕre (to hit, beat, pound). This comes from the Proto-Indo-European prefix bhau- (to hit) [source], which is also the root of such English words as butt and batter.

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, French, Language, Latin, Proto-Indo-European, Words and phrases.

4 Responses to Eyelid batting

  1. Jayarava says:

    A lot more words are related: see http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/lrc/ielex/X/P0197.html

    Including beetle, buttock, button, footle, hobbit, rebut and refute,. In Italian we also get: futuo, futuere, futui, futūtumto “have intercourse”.

  2. TJ says:

    Maybe the old people at that time imagined the act of blinking as .. the eyelids batting (hitting) each other.

  3. David says:

    What do butts have to do with hitting?

  4. Simon says:

    It’s the root of to butt, as in to strike or push with the head or horns, not butt(ocks).

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