To be watchful; alert. To pay careful attention to something.
Example: Brad ordered an expensive package that was scheduled to be delivered later today. However, he would not be home to sign for it because he had work. So Brad told his brother, “Keep your eyes peeled for a delivery coming today. It should be here soon, try not to miss it.”
In other words, Brad was telling his brother to be alert, watching for the delivery man.
Synonyms/Related: be on your toes, heads up, on the lookout
The Origin Of ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’
There are two versions of this phrase. One version uses the word “peeled” at the end, 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? It sounds like both versions derived from the practice of peeling/skinning foods before eating them. For example, a person usually peels a banana before consuming it. The purpose of the peeling it is to “open” it up. Thus, a metaphor must have eventually formed from this practice. 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, this is merely speculation for how it originated.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about how old this phrase is. Both versions of the idiom appear 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.”
It’s possible that the “skinned” version is slightly older, but no way to know that for sure.
- If you’re wandering around in a desert, the heat isn’t the only thing you have to be way 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 sound scary, so I’m keeping my eyes skinned for anything out of the ordinary.
Note: The exact origin for some 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.