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What Is an "Eye-Opener"?

Jim B.
Updated May 23, 2024
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An "eye-opener" is an English idiom that is often used when someone is surprised by something he or she has just seen, heard, or experienced. It is also often associated with an event so momentous that the person who experiences it has his opinions or views forever altered. The implication behind the idiom is that someone has been blind to a certain fact or theory but has had his or her eyes opened to the truth. People often alter "eye-opener" to form "eye-opening," which has a similar meaning but is used as an adjective instead of a noun.

In the English language, it is rare for a person speaking to describe everything using the literal definition of the words that are chosen. By contrast, certain phrases take on a meaning that is far from literal but instead informed by popular usage in the culture. These phrases are known as idioms, which allow for speech that is both colorful and colloquial. When people say that something is an "eye-opener" for them, it means that it has surprised them and changed his or her way of thinking.

As an example of how this phrase might be used in a sentence, imagine someone who has just seen a documentary about a particularly poor part of the world that he had never really known existed. He might say, "That documentary was a real eye-opener for me." The idea of the sentence is that the documentary has figuratively opened the person's eyes to something new.

This phrase has a particular power attached to it, since it often refers to something that is more than just surprising. As a matter of fact, something that merits the use of this idiomatic expression is usually powerful enough as an experience to forever alter the person who uses the phrase. For example, imagine that someone says, "I've been blind to how some people are treated in this country, but his speech was a real eye-opener to me." The suggestion here is that the speaker has not only been startled by new information but perhaps even motivated to do something about it.

Some people use this idiom in its adjectival form, which is "eye-opening." Consider the sentence, "The way that he behaved today was eye-opening and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to trust him again." Like all idioms, there is some exaggeration inherent in this phrase, since an experience can't literally open one's eyes. This exaggeration is what helps to give "eye-opener" its potency as an idiom.

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Jim B.
By Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own successful blog. His passion led to a popular book series, which has gained the attention of fans worldwide. With a background in journalism, Beviglia brings his love for storytelling to his writing career where he engages readers with his unique insights.
Discussion Comments
By shell4life — On Jul 08, 2012

I used to fall in love so easily. I trusted people that I shouldn't have trusted, and I learned the hard way to keep my eyes wide open.

My friends all told me I was blind to my boyfriend's terrible flaws. When he ended up in jail because of selling drugs, he denied that he did it, and I believed him. I shut my eyes to the evidence, and I only kept people around me who supported my decision to stay with him.

After he got out of jail, he didn't contact me. It was months before I heard from him, and I had been writing to him and accepting his collect calls every day while he was incarcerated. His newfound freedom was intoxicating, and I was suddenly unimportant.

These days, I have no blinders on. I don't trust someone until he proves himself trustworthy. That experience with my ex-prisoner was just the eye-opener I needed to grow up and face facts.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 07, 2012

I didn't want to open my eyes to the homeless situation in my area, but one man forced me to do so. My husband and I had just finished grocery shopping, and we were sitting in the parking lot about to leave. A scraggly looking man came up to our window and tapped on it.

My husband rolled it down, and the guy asked for some money to buy himself something to eat. My husband's knee-jerk reaction was to say that he didn't have any cash, because he had lived in an area where beggars wanted money just to support their drug habits.

We pulled away, and I asked my husband why he didn't give him the money. We decided to turn around and offer to take him inside the store and buy him something to eat with our debit card. The guy was grateful, and he told us that he had lost his job and was living in a tent under a bridge.

He also told us that he was a veteran. I had heard that many veterans in this country were without homes, but seeing one in person and hearing his story really opened my eyes to how bad the problem is.

By Oceana — On Jul 06, 2012

@DylanB – That is so sweet and sad! It really hurts to lose a pet as a child, but it hurts even more when you realize that they are really gone.

I had a dog-related experience that opened my eyes to the cruelty in my own community. I found a starving puppy in the road, and he had stretched out in the road to die. He lifted his head up as I drove by, so I came back and picked him up.

I could see his cheekbones and his hip bones. His toes had no muscle on them whatsoever. He was covered in fleas.

I gave him food and water and took him to the vet. He is now a healthy, happy dog. I just couldn't believe that someone could throw a beautiful puppy out like that to die. His brother, sister, and mother were in the same condition, and they had wandered over to my neighbor's house, so obviously, they had all been dumped at the same spot by the same person.

By DylanB — On Jul 06, 2012

I recall the eye-opener that jolted me into reality when I was a kid. I sincerely believed that my dogs could live forever, or at least that they could come back to me as some sort of earth angels if they did die.

Imagine my shock when one of them got attacked by a big dog and died. My parents told me the news, and I was in denial and disbelief at first.

I believed in fairy tales, and I had created my own around my dogs. Suddenly, it completely shattered.

I really watched the sky for months after that, hoping that my dog would return to me. When it didn't happen, I experienced a slow, painful eye-opener to the reality of life and death. I still believe my dog is in heaven, but I know that I can't see him until I cross over.

Jim B.
Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own...
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