that thing they say about ...

Tea Addict

Senior Member
Republic of Korea Korean
Hello everyone. I would like to know what "But you know that thing they say about someone’s eyes not smiling?" means in the following sentences:

‘Well,’ Jules says. ‘Our guests are very lucky.’ She smiles at me. But you know that thing they say about someone’s eyes not smiling? Hers aren’t.

- Lucy Foley, The Guest List, Chapter 15

This is a thriller novel published in 2020 in the United Kingdom. One hundred and fifty guests gathered at some remote and deserted fictional islet called Inis an Amplóra off the coast of the island of Ireland to celebrate the wedding between Jules (a self-made woman running an online magazine called The Download) and Will (a celebrity appearing in a TV show program called Survive the Night). The day before the actual wedding day, at the rehearsal dinner, Will, during the conversation, says to Johnno, Will's high school friend and the best man, about tasting the whiskey that Johnno himself developed. But Jules, tasting the whiskey, winces and covers her mouth with her hand. She nevertheless says afterwards that "Our guests are very lucky," but Johnno notices how her eyes are not smiling.

In this part, I wonder whether "that thing they say about" means that there is a proverb regarding "not-smiling eyes."
I tried googling the proverb, but I couldn't find any, so I need your help... If someone's eyes are not smiling, then what do they say? I wonder.

But then I cannot be sure whether it was right to understand that it indicates a proverbial expression.

I would very much appreciate your help. :)
 
  • Jektor

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    I wonder whether "that thing they say about" means that there is a proverb regarding "not-smiling eyes."
    .
    It's not exactly a proverb, but sometimes somebody will say "you know what they say about..." to imply that something is often said, in order to reinforce what they are saying. It might be a well known saying, or it might simply be invented for that specific occasion.
    There is an old popular, almost traditional, song "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" which many (most?) native English speakers will know, so I suppose it could be regarded as a sort of proverb. The speaker in your example has turned this around to imply that there is an equivalent version where the "eyes are not smiling".
    lyricstranslate.com - when-irish-eyes-are-smiling-lyrics
    .
     

    analeeh

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    I'm not sure it's necessarily a reference to the song. We use expressions like 'smiling with your eyes' or 'the smile didn't reach her eyes' to mean that a smile is not genuine: she's smiling with her mouth, but her eyes show she's not actually happy. So I think she's just referring to that idea - she's saying 'you know how people say that you can smile, but your eyes aren't smiling? That describes her in this moment.'
     

    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear Jektor and analeeh,

    Thank you so much for the explanations.
    I didn't know that there was an Irish song regarding "non-smiling eyes"! I learned a new thing thanks to you.
    Then it could be a reference to that song, or the narrator here might just be referring to a common saying among people, that when a smile does not reach eyes, that smile is not genuine.
    So the narrator is basically talking about how false that smile looked!
    I sincerely appreciate your help. :)
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    'she's smiling with her mouth, but her eyes show she's not actually happy. So I think she's just referring to that idea - she's saying 'you know how people say that you can smile, but your eyes aren't smiling? That describes her in this moment.'
    :thumbsup:

    She has planned this dream wedding of hers down to the last detail and has just discovered her fiance's friend, who provided the whiskey (that he made himself), brought what she evidently considers swill, and she is stuck in the position of having to serve it to her guests. No, she's not happy about that. Others might not see it, but Johnno, the guilty party, does. Her smile is forced by circumstances, in her role as hostess, it's not coming from inside.

    There is a quiz I took a number of years ago on the internet. It showed 20 people of all kinds smiling. Your job was to indicate which ones were smiling genuine smiles and which ones were pretending. It was part of a research project. The difference between the eyes and the mouth surely was part of that judgment. I think I miraculously missed one. Some of mine were straight up guesses (I think).
     
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    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear kentix,

    Thank you very much for the explanation.
    brought what she evidently considers swill,
    Oh my, this part made me laugh... Indeed, Jules clearly thinks that it is swill or something! :D
    Your job was to indicate which ones were smiling genuine smiles and which ones were pretending. It was part of a research project. The difference between the eyes and the mouth surely was part of that judgment. I think I miraculously missed one. Some of mine were straight up guesses (I think).
    That research project seems interesting... I am not sure I can correctly spot one false smile if I had participated. o_O
    So Jules has to force her smile because she does not like Johnno, nor the whiskey (swill) he brought, nor the situation in which she has to serve it to her wedding guests in her dream wedding.
    I sincerely appreciate your help. :)
     
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