Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Mud In Your Eye

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 31, 2011

Have you ever watched a movie and heard the expression, “Here’s mud in your eye?” It sounds awful but it’s actually an interesting way of wishing success or happiness to someone who is drinking with the person making the wish.  The history of the phrase is complex, confused and disputed by a number of sources and so Idiomation was unable to track back who first used the phrase.

This toast may have been popular with the soldiers slogging through the muddy trenches of WWI, but it did not originate with them, as many believe. Some say that back in the day the phrase symbolised a plentiful crop when farmers used to raise a glass to the success of a good harvest.  It was being bandied about in U.S. saloons as early as 1890 and was popular with the English fox hunting and race horse crowd before then.

According to Morten’s List, the roots are found in the Gospel of John (Chapter 9) where there’s mention of the medicinal qualities of “mud in the eye” but the toast doesn’t appear anywhere in the New Testament.

Back on Christmas Eve 1931, the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper ran a humourous parody of the well-loved poem, “Twas The Night Before Christmas.”  Entitled simple as “Night Before Christmas” the poem went as follows:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the apartment house
Everybody was stirring, including a prohibition enforcement department souse
Who might better have remained home with his wife and kiddies, I think
But he apparently figured it was his privilege to snoop around and bum himself a drink.
He polished his badge, then rang each apartment bell,
And when admitted, rubbed his hands and exclaimed, “Well, well, well!
If any one in this her apartment is in illegal possession of bourbon and rye,
They better pour the evidence in a glass.  Thanks.  Here’s mud in your eye!”
And then, in a flash, he’d tip toe out the door
And go right back to some apartment he had called on before.
Consequently he was able to make a long report to his chief
In which he went into considerable detail to express the belief
That the particular district on which he was assigned to keep an eye
Was, thanks to his personal efforts, by now practically dry.

On May 14, 1930 the Pittsburgh Press ran an article written by Joe Williams entitled, “Tannery, That’s Where He’s Going: Colonel’s Hot Derby Tip” about the upcoming Derby in Louisville.  It read in part:

I am not surprised to learn that mud is the favorite dish of my hoss and that the theme song of his whole family has always been “Here’s Mud In Your Eye” — a song which is sung with splashing effect on training fields.  Tannery’s daddy, Ballot, was weaned on mud and his mammy, Blemish, wouldn’t leave the barns unless it was raining pitchforks and pearl necklaces, and nobody could ever persuade the old gal to carry a parasol and even put on her galoshes.  Well, this makes it pretty nice as I say I am not surprised because I have known for more than a week that my hoss was as good as in, and if he needs a muddy track I am sure that something will happen to see that he gets one.

The fact of the matter is that it’s a relatively new phrase with which to toast others when expressed as “mud in the eye” or “mud in your eye.” 

The phrase was used back in the 1930s but did the previous generation use the phrase?  It would appear the answer is “yes” as evidenced by a very popular song from 1905 that was heard at many American Baseball Leagues games, entitled, “Let’s Get The Umpire’s Goat” that includes these lyrics:

We’ll yell, “Oh, you robber! Go somewhere and die,
Back to the bush you’ve got mud in your eye!
Oh what an awful decision! Why don’t you put spectacles on?”
Let’s holler like sin, and then our side will win, when the umpire’s nanny is gone.

Idiomation was unable to trace the phrase back any further than this however it’s a given that if it was used so easily in 1905 in song lyrics, then it was likely common use for that generation which means it is not unreasonable to believe it was in use the generation before that, taking us back to the 1870s.

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5 Responses to “Mud In Your Eye”

  1. John Sealock said

    Could the expression have something to do with the physical reaction of clenching ones eyes after gulping a stiff shot? Looks like someone got mud in their eye(s). Here’s mud in your eye is a wish that your drink is good and stiff and that you’ll react accordingly.

    • That’s an excellent question, John, and I’ve spent the last few days doing research based on that hypothesis. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find anything that linked the physical reaction to the expression. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for any clues going forward and should I find any information at all on this, I’ll be sure to add it to the entry. Thanks for the comment! :)

  2. I was thinking the phrase< "Here's mud in your eye" came from a movie starring the "great" duke, John Wayne. Time is of the essence, because this happens to, also, be the name of a sermon, based, of course, on John 9, that will be delivered in the very near future!

    • While it’s true that John Wayne (26 May 1907 – 11 June 1979) did, indeed, utter the expression more than a few times in several movies, it’s important to remember that those movies were filmed in the 20th century. He appeared in his first movie “Bardelys the Magnificent” in 1926 for which he was paid $10 a day.

      It was definitely an expression that found its way into a number of Westerns, but long before those Westerns, it was in the 1905 song “Let’s Get The Umpire’s Goat” … a song that was known and sung by many who attended American Baseball League games. I hope this information was provided in a timely fashion and helps you out with the upcoming sermon based on John 9. Cheers!

      • Paul Borgman said

        Dear Garry,

        Yes, it is timely because I put that title to a sermon, based on John 9, to be preached on March 30, 2014. I would be interested in seeing the sermon. Thanks. Paul Borgman

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