Why do we say "His/her eyes are bigger than his/her stomach"?

Well-Known Expressions

His/her eyes are bigger than his/her stomach

Meaning:

He or she has tried to consume more than can be handled.

Background:

Often referring to food consumption but can be used in reference to an excess in other regards. For example Gregory Titleman's America's Popular Proverbs and Sayings quotes Forbes magazine in 1984: "I got the feeling that Dick's eyes were bigger than his stomach," Hoffman explains. "He expanded too fast and invested some heavy dollars in new sites that didn't pay off."

The earliest known use is found in Euphues and His England, a didactic romance written by John Lyly in 1580 (didactic meaning instructional). Euphues derives from the Greek for "graceful, witty". The mannered and indirect style of Lyly's writing in Euphues gave rise to the term euphuism for writing that employed a deliberate excess of literary devices in order to show off classical learning and knowledge of all kinds. It came into fashion in the 1580s, particularly in the court of Elizabeth I, and apparently fell out of favor soon after. Shakespeare satirises the style in a number of plays including the florid language of the lovers in Love's Labour's Lost.

Do not confuse euphuism with euphemism, which both derive from the same Greek source but have different meanings. A euphemism is a seemingly innocuous word used in place of a more unpleasant term - such as an army "neutralizing" its enemy. Etymologically, eupheme is the opposite of blaspheme (evil-speach). The Greeks were fond of euphemisms. In fact, they used the term euphemism as a euphemism - meaning to keep a holy silence (that is to say, by speaking well by not speaking at all)!

Alphabetical list of expressions

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