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What eyebrows are for

Writing about a CNN interview in which Ron Paul objected to a reporter's questions, the National Journal reports that the Republican candidate “furrowed his eyebrows.”

Neat trick.

The idiomatic expression is to “furrow the brow”—that is, to wrinkle the forehead in perplexity. It’s a buried metaphor, furrow being a shallow trench dug in the ground by a plow and thus analogous to a wrinkle.

Brow derives from the Old English bru, or “eyebrow,” and came to mean the forehead in Middle English. It can still have the sense of “eyebrow” in the phrase “raise the brows.” The eyebrows can be raised to indicate surprise or disbelief—and the ability raise one eyebrow is handy to indicate ironic amusement.

But wrinkling the eyebrows? Don’t think so.

The writer, Adam Clark Estes of The Atlantic Wire, also describes Mr. Paul as “storming off.” But if you watch the actual video clip, all you see is the candidate, sounding a little testy but not shouting, fumble to remove the lapel microphone—not even leaving the room.

You might furrow your own brow over such reportage.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:41 AM | | Comments (1)


Prof. McI.,

You've definitely raised a few bloggers' eyebrows, and some welcome awareness w/ this credible effort at word usage clarification....... brow vs eyebrows, and such.

Not to be too-too gruesome here, but let's say if the notorious prohibitionist/ activist-of-yore, Carrie Nation, had wielded her trusty hatchet upon the skulls of the more flagrant booze runners, and barkeeps of her day----channeling the fury of that other noted female (alleged) hatchet wielder, Lizzie Borden, ( Ms. Nation's infamous bar-busting hatchet jobs on mid-West whisky stores and beer kegs, aside), there may have been many a 'furrowed eyebrow' amongst those, (admittedly hypothetical), unfortunate victims of Nation's wrath. (Hmm......... where did THAT come from?)

Maybe I've watched one-to-many episodes of South Park, of late, and my imagination has run amok....... or just plain into the muck...... and mire?

After reading my slightly grotesque offering, above, I'm sure many folks are furrowing their brows, about now, wondering where that Carrie Nation-turned-ax-murderer stuff came from. Beats me?

Trust me, I'm not a violent man........... he said, wrinkling his beaded brow....... w/ those beady, closet-set, shifty eyes.

Boy, did that Groucho have some bushy eyebrows? Even U.S.S.R.'s late, fearless leader, Leonid Brezniev, was jealous. A little known factoid---- Brezniev loved the Marx brothers.

NO.......... not the zany Harpo, Groucho & Co., but Karl Marx. The father of Soviet Communism and his wacky siblings just cracked old Leonid up. I kid you 'nyet'.


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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