Eye-watering (Adj.) - Meaning

Discussion in 'English Only' started by James Brandon, Sep 16, 2009.

  1. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    'Eye-watering' is used, as in this article about John Cleese and his - very expensive - divorce.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbi...al-leave-John-Cleeses-ex-wife-richer-him.html

    I wanted to confirm what the intended meaning is. The obvious one would be: 'which makes my eyes water', i.e. 'which makes me (you/ somebody) cry'.

    E.g.: 'An eye-watering account of the life of X' would be a sad tale focused on the life of X, which would make you feel like crying as you read it.

    Confirmation welcome.

    Thanks.
     
  2. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Good question. First of all, technically speaking, it should be richer than he, but I digress.

    Eyes normally produce tears for lubrication. Excess tears can come from allergies, crying, laughing, etc., I wouldn't presume to say what the headline writer implied.

    As far as I can see, the story doesn't substantiate the headline with respect to eyes, so I'd just dismiss the headline as some hack trying to be cute.

    If I remember correctly, the Daily Mail is a tabloid and as such, well.... you get my drift.
     
  3. manon33 Senior Member

    English - England (Yorkshire)
    An eye-watering divorce deal is one which leaves one partner with tears in his eyes as he watches large amounts of his money being awarded to his ex-wife. The imagery is of physical pain - if someone kicks you somewhere tender, it can make your eyes water. Having one's money taken away is being represented in terms of physical pain and anguish.

    An eye-watering account of someone's life does not sound idiomatic. 'Heart-wrenching', perhaps, or 'tear-jerking'.
     
  4. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I have heard the expression (on the radio I think). I made a note of it and did a search on the web, and was trying to ascertain the exact meaning.

    In terms of the obvious meaning, as put forward by Manon, it is that it makes your eyes water, i.e. it makes you cry, essentially.

    The problem with the use of the adj. in the case of the article (if one sticks to this example) is that it is about J Cleese's divorce. Your eyes would water if you sympathized with him - but, after all, you may or you may not, and you may feel the wife is entitled to what she is getting. (The article, obviously, is based on the notion that she is getting far more than she deserves, i.e. the reporter is implicitly 'siding' with J Cleese.) Or you could assume the adj. referred to J Cleese's own feelings as they can be worked out from the context.
     
  5. manon33 Senior Member

    English - England (Yorkshire)
    Yes, it refers in the first instance I think to John Cleese's eyes watering - but by association, the reader's (as one empathises with his pain).
     
  6. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    OK, fine. One may or may not empathise, in fact! Some might think it is all a good joke... :D
     
  7. jezmund New Member

    english
    "Eye watering" invokes a painful experience, specifically physical pain associated with a man's private parts. Think "wedgie".
     
  8. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    I think it refers to any painful experience that would make one's eyes water. I think, as jezmund says, that it more likely refers to a physical pain (e.g. stubbing one's toe) rather than an emotional one.

    In British journalism "eye-watering" has become a cliché (of which I, for one, am tired of seeing) and is usually associated with having to spend a large amount of money, as in the topic case. E.g. "The bill was an eye-watering £827,000, but the hangover had only just begun" [Daily Mail, referring to the cost of a birthday party].
     
  9. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    That is interesting. So, the original meaning would be literal (physical pain brings tears to my eyes, hence "eye-watering", and whether one's privates are involved or not :D) but the figurative meaning would have become dominant (an unpleasant episode/outcome that makes the person want to cry, such as the example given by Mole).

    I must say I never hear it in relation to physical pain.
     
  10. jezmund New Member

    english
    One could argue that John Cleese took a proverbial hit to his wallet.

    Search on Youtube for "eye watering" and you'll get an idea of the sort of testicular centric pratfalls I'm talking about. I saw a short compilation and it made my eyes water. I think there is added depth to the expression in that it also evokes empathy-- we feel for John Cleese's expensive divorce settlement ( money he has to give to a woman which is emasculating in a way) and the way men can relate to say, a photo of a torreador getting gored in the groin or an athelete getting caught on a hurdle; we all wince together.
     
  11. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Jezmund,

    OK, so you are saying that there is a direct link between the literal meaning in relation to a man's crotch (e.g.: a bullfighter gored in his private parts by a bull - I do not doubt it hurts very badly) and the figurative meaning (cf. the J Cleese divorce-related pain). It makes sense.
     
  12. jezmund New Member

    english
    As Matching Mole says it seems to be used often to describe large financial numbers e.g there's a story in WSJ European Edition today that describes China's "eye watering export performance".

    I guess its being used to describe a financial extreme. It makes sense in the John Cleese case but perhaps not for "China export". I would think it better to use it when the event is negative e.g. "eye watering budget deficits".
     
  13. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    In the Chinese example here, I suppose it is eye-watering for other countries, as it were, on the assumption that a successful China is decimating other markets (itself a simplistic view, as we know).
     
  14. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    I agree it is usually used to refer to large amounts having to be spent, in that having to part with such amounts is painful, but I think in the Chinese example we are seeing a neutral equivalence between "eye-watering" and "large amount", where the reference to pain is entirely lost.
     
  15. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    Why the obsession with testicles? Eye-watering means that the loss that is being described is very painful indeed. Whilst testicular pain may be briefly eye-watering, there are plenty of forms of pain that are more eye-watering and for considerably longer - acute pancreatitis and renal colic come to mind. It would be a shame to suggest that only men can experience an eye-watering setback in their financial affairs.
     
  16. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    To go back to the Chinese exports issue, I think the idea of the pain is implicit, i.e. the pain of the importing countries' manufacturing industries, undercut by Chinese imports - a familiar argument stressing the pain of producers of manufactured goods, as opposed to the gains to consumers of those goods (who like them cheap and cheerful apparently).

    As for pain being available to all, be they blessed with testicular attributes or not, I can only agree that no one has a monopoly on pain...
     
  17. Jam on toast

    Jam on toast Senior Member

    UK
    British English
    My own experience of the use of "eye-watering" is an awkward cringing feeling at someone else's physical pain or emotional pain such as distress, extreme embarrassment, massive loss of money to a divorcee... or for example watching someone being hit in the privates by accident (cue quotes ... "ouch!").

    It could I suppose be used for something that makes you cry out of sadness, but that's not what springs first to my mind.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2010
  18. jezmund New Member

    english
    Andy, I'm originally from the U.K. and I think we generally find this sort of low grade vulgarity amusing. A man's "assets" are synonymous with his privates--think "the family jewels", and does the phrase "his assets were seized" not conjure up something more uncomfortable than frozen Swiss bank accounts?

    I take your point that anyone can experience "eye-watering" pain but would say that, in general, a blow to the groin is as excruciating as it gets but generally not life threatening nor chronic, its affects are transitory and even, dare I say it, a little comic (at least to the spectators!!). There's a scene in Butch Cassidy where Paul Newman disarms a huge man who he is about to fight with a swift kick to the groin, the giant slain by his (and everyman's) Achilles heal.
     

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