World Wide Words logo


Q From Maurits Zwankhuizen, Canberra, Australia: Firstly thanks for your great and informative Web site. I have an interesting term that I have came across: orey-eyed. The etymology is unknown, as far as my research could tell, so I’m interested to see if you can discover where its origin lies.

A It was new to me too, which added interest to my search. It is quite common online, especially in reference to the Orey-eyed Oghamist, whoever he is. One dictionary site defined it as “expressing anger through the eyes”. An article on horsemanship said that orey-eyed meant the same as wall-eyed, for a an eye with a streaked or opaque white iris.

None of my standard reference works contained it, but I ran it to earth in the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), which says it means “having bleary or wild-looking eyes, especially as a result of drunkenness” and that it could also mean that somebody is drunk or enraged. It has examples going back to a discussion of it by H L Mencken in 1919, though the first appearance that DARE includes from real life is in Chevrons, a war novel by Leonard Nason dated 1926: “‘I know him,’ said Short, ‘he’s the man that brought you home the night you got orey-eyed at Cokeydawn.’” The earliest example I’ve found is in The Post Standard of Syracuse in 1910: “And Harte did a job on the orey-eyed slob that was vivid and livid and nifty.”

Now at last to your question. Nobody knows the answer for certain. Mencken thought it was actually awry-eyed, which is a reasonable guess, but DARE points to the old Scottish term oorie, which is defined in the Concise Scots Dictionary as referring to persons or things that are “dismal, gloomy, miserable-looking, from cold, illness, etc.” If you include drunkenness in that etc., you’re well on the way to the modern American sense.

Page created 19 Aug. 2006

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.

Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL:
Last modified: 19 August 2006.