To be watchful; paying careful attention to something.
Example: Brad ordered an expensive package that was scheduled to be delivered later today. However, because he has work, he would not be home to sign for it. So Brad told his brother, “Keep your eyes peeled for a delivery coming today. It should be here soon, so try not to miss it.”
In other words, Brad was telling his brother to be on the watch for the delivery man.
The Origin Of ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’
There are two versions of this phrase. One uses the word “peeled” at the end, while the other uses the word “skinned.” Both versions convey the same idea: Figuratively removing the skin of one’s eyes in order to pay better attention.
So, where did the phrase “keep your eyes peeled” come from? Well, have you ever peeled a banana before, or skinned an apple? You probably have. People peel and skin all sorts of foods, and they do so for what purpose? To “open” them up. Thus, this metaphor probably developed from the common practice of peeling fruit before eating it. Indeed, just as one removes the skin of a fruit or vegetable to “open” it up, so too someone who’s “keeping their eyes peeled” are figuratively removing the skin on their eyes in order to open them. So their might be a connection there.
However, this is only a theory as to where this idiom originated from.
Now, let’s talk about how old this phrase is. Both versions of the idiom make appear as early as the 19th century. For example, the form with the word “skinned” on the end is in an old book from the year 1832:
“‘Keep your eyes skinned now,’ said the old trapper.”
The other form of the expression, the one that uses the word “peeled,” it is written in the Kenosha Telegraph newspaper, 1852:
“Keep your eyes peeled for all their antics.”
It’s possible that the “skinned” version is slightly older, but I wouldn’t say for sure one way or the other.
- The heat isn’t the only thing you have to worry about if you’re wandering around in a desert. Keep your eyes peeled for any dangerous creatures on the ground, like rattlesnakes or scorpions.
- I was told that a special guest was coming over for dinner. They will be here any minute, so I’m keeping my eyes skinned out the window to see who it could be.
Note: The exact origins for most common phrases and popular sayings cannot be said with a certainty. Because of this, what you will see provided are theories that may be plausible as to how a phrase originated, like this one for example.
In addition, quotes that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago, but this by no means confirms that the phrase originates from said newspapers, poems, or books. In all likelihood, if an expression is being used in a newspaper, it’s probably already a well known saying and is from an older time.