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What Does "Four-Eyes" Mean?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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"Four-eyes" is an English phrase that is normally used to identify people who wear corrective lenses in order to enjoy a higher quality of vision. Typically, the idiomatic expression is applied in a derogatory manner rather than as a means of identifying a positive attribute. "Four-eyes" is more likely to be directed toward males and females who happen to wear glasses rather than those who make use of contact lenses, since the glasses serve as a readily visible sign of the need for some sort of vision correction devices. While generally considered more of a playground insult, the expression is sometimes used in adult settings.

The imagery begin "four-eyes" has to do with the idea that an individual who is in need of corrective lenses is somehow deficient physically. Since the eyes are not capable of perfect vision, each eye must be assisted by what amounts to a second artificial device or eye in order to focus properly. With this in mind, the phrase is taking into account both of the natural eyes of the individual, plus each of the two corrective lenses that are used to allow the individual to see more clearly.

Since the term is normally used as a means of derision for the individual wearing glasses, it is rarely utilized except in situations where someone wants to express contempt or dislike for the person who is wearing the glasses. The implications that come with the use of "four-eyes" include the perception that the wearer is physically weak, unlikely to engage in any activity that requires much in the way of physical exertion, and will abstain from any activities that could lead to damaging the lenses. In reality, people who wear glasses and other types of corrective lenses engage in a wide range of activities and are often in robust physical health.

In most quarters, to use the phrase to describe another human being is considered to be a sign of poor social skills, and a level of ignorance that buys into the idea that anyone who wears glasses is weak or deficient in some manner that prevents them from enjoying life and participating in whatever activities they choose. While it is true that people who actually wear glasses may sometimes refer to themselves as "four-eyes" while playfully engaging in conversation with others who also wear corrective lenses, the context is very different from the more common application of this idiom.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including Language & Humanities, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By hyrax53 — On Dec 15, 2011

@widget2010- I agree! I work as a teacher with several women who are more than twice my age. One woman in her 60s has never worn her glasses enough because she admits to being vain. It's ridiculous though, because it means when she goes to plays or concerts she has to admit she can't really see what's going on.

She also almost never drives because she'd have to wear glasses to do it; we live in a city where walking can get you almost anywhere, but still, I can't imagine not being able to see everything I might want to like that.

By widget2010 — On Dec 14, 2011

@Denha- I think most kids really do want to avoid being mocked, but I suppose it's true that not all glasses frames are well fitted and kids are hard to please with those things.

What bothers me is when teenagers and young women, or even older women, are vain about it. There are a lot of attractive eye frames for women these days, and meanwhile, adults should be willing to do what they have to in order to see properly. Vanity shouldn't get in the way of functionality.

By Denha — On Dec 13, 2011

When I was little and I first got glasses, I was only about 4 or 5. The whole concept of wearing eyewear was new and weird to me, and my glasses gave me a headache. My head grew really fast, and my eyeglass frames were tight and cumbersome at once. I stopped wearing them, but for three years no one believed me when I said why.

I remember at least once when even another adult tried to intervene- one of my friends' dads asked me if I had trouble seeing, or if I ever heard other kids get called "four eyes". To be honest, at the time I had no idea what it meant. It was all about the fact they hurt my eyes, but it's hard for a kid that small to convince people of anything.

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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