Talk:keep a weather eye open

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2009 discussion[edit]

Never have i seen the internet to be so unanimously wrong. I keep seeing this phrase defined as "to concentrate or focus intently on something"

"to watch carefully or focus on something" -

"Be extremely watchful or alert, as in We should keep a weather eye on our competitors in case they start a price war." -

"keep a sharp eye out for" -

"to watch something or someone carefully, because they may cause trouble or they may need help. I'd like you to keep a weather eye on the situation and report any major developments to me at once." -

Perhaps this phrase is hard to understand unless you have used it in the nautical setting it is derived from. The true meaning is more akin to keeping half an eye on something. For instance while concentrating on changing sails, plotting a course at the chart table or fishing you must always reserve a small amount of attention on what the weather is doing as it can change suddenly and be on your vessel before you know it. This small amount of attention becomes instinctive as a sailor gains seamanship.

It is not logical to believe that a sailor will have the time, or the need, to focus intently on the weather all of the time, but it is logical to believe that he must pay it at least some attention all of the time.

I think you may have misunderstood the phrase. The OED and Merriam-Webster (two well-renowned dictionaries) support the "concentrate on" definition. Though, if you can find cites that demonstrate your usage, we will of course include it. Conrad.Irwin 22:59, 25 January 2009 (UTC)

As I say I've been amazed at the unanimity of so many sources about this one, I can only guess a mistake has been made and copied a lot. It could well be that as with a number of other nautical phrases (such as "spray dodger") it has been taken from English and changed by American popular use. Hence I'll also try to set out a logical case for it which I think is hard to dispute if you think about it.

I don't dispute that it refers to a state of alertness but only that it is often stated or implied to mean a primary focus of attention or concentration. Actually your definition wasn't wrong in that respect but it was ambiguous about it.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

weather eye NOUN: An ability to recognize quickly signs of changes in the weather. IDIOM: keep a (or one's) weather eye open To keep watch; stay alert.

Stay alert must mean despite doing something else otherwise there would be no need to "stay" or "remain" alert. In practice, in the nautical setting it stems from, it could never mean to be continually fixated or intently concentrating as there is no full time weather watchers post on ship, what a dull job that would be!

Concise OED

keep a weather eye on; be watchful for developments.

The implication seems to be not that it is a state of single mindedly watching for change but as it says; a state of watchfulness. I realize these are slight differences, I guess that's how the term has come to be commonly misunderstood.

Imagine the term applied to the every-day. To concentrate fully on the weather, as it happens, would be as dull as watching paint dry. But if you have laundry out drying on the line it would be sensible to keep half an eye out for changes in the sky while getting on with other jobs around the house. Just habitually glancing up now and again. After a while I imagine anyone working out doors would develop the ability to keep a weather eye out while doing other things, but no more so than a sailor for whom it might be dangerous to forget to pay it any attention at all. The sailor will be looking for more signs than what is in the sky, the waves, changes in wind direction, bird movements Etc. but essentially it is the same thing. The experienced sailor will see it all in a quick glance up now and again, or noticing that he can suddenly smell seaweed so the wind has changed to being off the land. He definitely won't need to focus intently all the time though.

Getting Started in Powerboating, page 240,M1

...and you should work on developing a good "weather eye" (along with all your other seamen's tricks)

various sights, sounds and smells can all work the same way to tip you off to changes that portend trouble. All you have to do is learn what they are for your boating area and keep that weather eye peeled. It doesn't do much good if you are too "busy" to look for them"

Clearly this author is recommending developing the ability to maintain a watch on the weather despite having other work to do.

Weather Wrinkles for Yachtsmen. page 617

"It is an old sea saying that no water except that in a well is secure from squalls, and thus it is a capital plan to keep your weather eye open all the time when afloat in a sailing craft."

It is clearly not possible to actually "concentrate" on the weather all the time, nor would it be necessary or practical, so I hope you'll agree he must mean "keeping half an eye on it".

Do you want me to look for more citations still? If not can I suggest we change it to "remain vigilant of a changing background situation whilst getting on with more immediate tasks" It seems concise but unambiguous. Or what do you suggest? --AaThomson 00:50, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

I think the Merriam-Webster definition has a clue in the use of the word "shrewd" - "A constant and shrewd watchfulness and alertness" The reason it is shrewd is that it is "out of the corner of the eye", a learned instinctive alertness rather than full time concentration. --AaThomson 01:06, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

The Sailor's Word-book Is disappointingly ambiguous

Be on your guard, look out for squalls.

The Wordsworth dictionary of idioms is even worse

Other than the usually ambiguous remain alert it says One's weather eye is the eye one keeps on the weather.

Slightly different definition here, not sure it makes total sense though, a sailor can't literally keep one of his eyes full time looking over the weather rail while doing other things.

Quite a few definitions given as "having your wits about you", which I feel supports my claim that it is an additional "sense".

Some claim a persons "weather eye" is their skill in foretelling the weather from the available signs, which is obviously related but a slightly different slant on it.

I think this related phrase could be taken literally "keeping an eye on the weather" with the singular "an" meaning one eye on the weather, i.e. being watchful of it but not full concentration.

As it's seeming more complicated by the minute I'll resume sifting through the citations tomorrow.--AaThomson 01:47, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

Conrad that's much better. I've made a couple of very slight changes though:

1. (intransitive, idiomatic) to maintain a background awareness of something; to remain alert to small changes without them occupying your full attention.

I don't see the need for the word "small". The changes could be subtle though not insignificant but actually i think it would be best to just have it as "alert to changes"

Also instead of "them" which implies that the changes do not occupy your full attention i have changed it to "it" implying that it is the alertness that doesn't occupy your full attention. --AaThomson 10:09, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

I'm still not convinced by the only listed citation used to support "Concentrate or focus on".

1849, William A. Ross, A Yacht Voyage to Norway, Denmark, and Sweden (link): "Keep your weather eye up, your Honour," exclaimed the cockswain from his commanding point to P---, who had not seen the advancing ducks; "keep your weather eye up. Here they come; here's provender, your Honour"

My reading of it would be that the cockswain was admonishing P for not seeing the ducks having been instructed to keep an eye out for them. Sure they will focus on them now they have seen the ducks but I don't think the instruction to focus intently is carried in the phrase "keep your weather eye up" which I think would more likely be to implore P to get better at keeping a weather eye out or admonish him for not having done so. For that reason and without any other citations to support the "intently focus" meaning I really think the second part of the definition "(rare, obsolete) to be alert; to concentrate on a matter in hand." should be removed and the citation page changed. AaThomson (talk) 14:04, 3 November 2013 (UTC)

I've sent the "to be alert; to concentrate on a matter in hand" definition to WT:RFV. If no attesting quotations are provided for the sense, it will get deleted. --Dan Polansky (talk) 14:23, 3 November 2013 (UTC)


I've put the cites for this entry under Citations:weather eye, though maybe they should be moved back here as there seems to be a definite split. Conrad.Irwin 02:30, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

I just read this phrase the first time today (a wonder since I read everything, have a literature degree, and used to sail), but I can certainly see why an uninitiated would take the concentrated focus stance versus the keep it in the background stance. As I deliberated on the phrase on first reading, I realized that right, it probably isn't concentrated focus, so I looked it up. The luxury of time that is afforded me, and I turned this into a forum. --anon —⁠This unsigned comment was added by (talk) at 23:00, 28 July 2012.

I put the relevant cites back to Citations:keep a weather eye open. --Dan Polansky (talk) 14:33, 3 November 2013 (UTC)

keep a windward eye open?[edit]

Has anyone considered the possibility that weather refers to the windward side? Wouldn't the windward side be where sailing ships, storms, or other threats would be likely to come from? Chuck Entz (talk) 23:30, 28 July 2012 (UTC)

Surely anyone who has sailed or has read with some understanding the Aubrey-Maturin or Hornblower novels (not to mention James Fenimore Cooper's maritime works) has considered the possibility, indeed, hardly considered anything else. Whatever you are doing you keep an eye out to weather, to windward, even when there are attractive sights to leeward. Threats are, as you say. more likely to come from windward, and they come faster! —⁠This unsigned comment was added by (talk).

The term weather in sailing refers to the wind as in "going to weather". When sailing one keeps the up wind (weather) eye on the wind on the water (ahead and to weather of the boat) because that is what powers the boat and the other eye on the direction the boat is actually going. Sometimes a sailor has to split his attention amoung a dozan things at once. So "to keep a weather eye open" would be the same as saying keep one eye open for____ while you are already doing sevaral other things or simply "to look out for". Mark —⁠This unsigned comment was added by (talk) at 03:07, 18 April 2013‎.

RFV 2013/2014[edit]

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Rfv-sense: to be alert; to concentrate on a matter in hand.

I request attestation of this sense. The attesting quotations are to be provided at keep a weather eye open or Citations:keep a weather eye open, not Citations:weather eye.

The "to be alert" and "to concentrate on a matter in hand" parts don't even seem to be synonymous.

The definition was added in diff on 26 January 2009. --Dan Polansky (talk) 14:20, 3 November 2013 (UTC)

  • RFV failed: no attesting quotations provided. --Dan Polansky (talk) 13:18, 2 March 2014 (UTC)