Between Four Eyes

Illustration of the Swedish phrases mellan fyra ögon (between four eyes)

I learnt this week that in Swedish if you say that something is “between four eyes” – mellan fyra ögon – it means that it is known just to you and the person you’re speaking to, and should be kept secret.

Equivalent expressions in English include:

  • This is (just) between you and me/I
  • Keep it under your hat
  • This is between you, me and the post / gatepost / fencepost / bed-post / lampost / wall
  • Mum’s the word

The phrase “keep it under your hat” with the sense of keeping something a secret apparently first appeared in writing in the early 20th century, and referred to keeping something in your head, i.e. the thing you keep under your hat [source].

The phrase “between you, me and the bed-post” possibly first appeared in writing in 1832 in Eugene Aram, a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton [source].

The phrase “Mum’s the word” has nothing to do with mothers or Egyptian mummies. Instead it refers to the medieval tradition of mumming, a kind of performance involving acting and dancing that was at first done in silence [source].

Do you know any other similar phrases in English or other languages?

2 thoughts on “Between Four Eyes

  1. In Swedish “between” is used, in some other Germanic languages “under” is used (“under four eyes”):
    In Dutch: onder vier ogen, German: unter vier Augen, Danish: under fire øjne, West Frisian: ûnder fjouwer eagan.

  2. In italian we say “a quattr’occhi”, which is almost the same expression. For example “parliamone a quattr’occhi”: “let’s talk about it, just you and me”.

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