To be watchful; alert. To pay careful attention to something.
In other words, he told his brother to be alert, watching for the delivery man.
The Origin Of ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’
There are two versions of this phrase. One version uses the word “peeled,” while the other uses the word “skinned.” Both forms convey the same idea—figuratively removing the skin of one’s eyes in order to pay better attention.
So what is the origin of the phrase keep your eyes peeled? Both versions might derive from the practice of peeling/skinning certain foods before eating them. For example, a person usually peels a banana before consuming it. The purpose of the peeling is to “open” it up. This would then go on to become a metaphor. Just as someone removes the skin of a fruit of vegetable to “open” them up, so too someone who is “keeping their eyes peeled” is figuratively removing the skin of their eyelids to keep them open. While this may sound plausible for how the phrase originated, I am not certain if that’s the case.
Moving along, let’s talk about how old this phrase is. Both versions of the idiom appear in print as early as the 19th century. Let’s look at two examples. First, the version with the word “skinned” is seen in an old book from 1832:
“‘Keep your eyes skinned now,’ said the old trapper.”
The other form (the one that uses the word “peeled”) is written in the Kenosha Telegraph newspaper, 1852:
“Keep your eyes peeled for all their antics.”
- If you’re wandering around in the desert, the heat isn’t the only thing you have to be careful of. You also have to keep your eyes peeled for any dangerous creatures on the ground, like rattlesnakes or scorpions.
- My dog is on a new medication. The side effects for it are worrying, so I’m keeping my eyes skinned for anything out of the ordinary.
In addition, quotes that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers or books, but this does not necessarily confirm that the phrase originated from these sources. Really, if an expression is being used in a newspaper, it’s probably already a well known saying and thus is from an older time.