I had cataract surgery; you know, where they pop out your lens and pop in a new and improved one. Out with the old, in with the new and all in a matter of minutes. The thought of a scalpel in my eye was a bit unnerving—heart-pounding, actually—as well it should be. After all, we’re not talking about a speck of dirt or even a bug in your eye. A scalpel.
Merely the thought of anything in your eye is unnerving, right? Well, the surgery wasn’t all that bad. Didn’t feel a thing. And I wouldn’t be writing this, right now, without it, so for that I am grateful. Speaking of eyes, there’s a saying that always struck me as humorous or at least as light-hearted or well intended—”here’s mud in your eye.”
But who says that anymore? I can’t recall when it was that I first heard the expression, but I do know that it was never said in my company. I imagine the modern equivalent of this expression to be a fist pump, perhaps a high five, or, as I have countered back, a high thumb (so much easier on the hand). It’s a toast, like “Cheers!” or “Here’s to you!” But it doesn’t sound as friendly as these well wishes. After all, who wants mud in their eye and why would you wish that on anyone?
The phrase is thought, perhaps, to have been bandied about by WWI soldiers, as they slogged in muddy trenches, but it is also thought, possibly, to be connected to horse racing, as thundering hooves kick up mud as they race. (Pity the unsuspecting horse-race enthusiast watching from the stands.)
But, and perhaps more plausibly, others believe the phrase has a biblical origin … from the famous passage in John, chapter nine, where Jesus picked up some dirt, spat into it and then turned to the man who was born blind and said, “Here’s mud in your eye!” (I’m kidding, of course he didn’t say that.) In the biblical account, Jesus did spit into the dirt—with enough saliva to make mud—and then rubbed the mud on the man’s eyes. And, lo and behold, shortly thereafter, the blind man could see.
So, according to this possible origin, “Here’s mud in your eye” isn’t some unfortunate accident. It is, rather, a way of saying, “Cheers!” and “Here’s to your good health!” before sharing a toast with friends or family, one that is heard at family gatherings or during formal dinners, in a moment when conflicts are, if not forgotten, set aside and where camaraderie prevails. A moment when eyes meet and the punchy pat on the arm or the firm handshake are there in spirit, as glasses are raised—no matter the contents. Doesn’t matter. What matters is the spirit of the thing.
So next time you are at such a gathering, why not raise your glass of cheer and wish your loved ones, friends and family, the best of health and happiness.
Whatever you believe about the origin of this phrase, I take my leave with this parting wish for you: Here’s mud in your eye!