Asked by: George Brignal, Cambridge
Today, eye-rolling is frequently used as signal of covert rebellion: think of the teenager who submits to a parental reprimand while looking skyward for the benefit of her friends. But it wasn’t always so – an analysis of mentions of eye-rolling in literature shows that the modern meaning only emerged in recent decades. In Shakespeare, for example, eye-rolling is associated with lust. Unfortunately, we don’t know much more than that – psychologists have spent much time studying smiles, frowns and sneers, but they’ve mostly neglected the eye roll. One exception: a study published in 2015 found that women frequently perform eye rolls when exposed to sexist jokes.