Itching on many parts of the body is held to be ominous, and the eye is no exception. The meaning here is relatively stable, its first documentary appearance in Shakespeare's Othello ((1604), iv. iii) : '. . . Mine eyes doth itch, Doth that bode weeping?' The belief is recorded regularly from then on, although sometimes embellished with a choice of eyes - right to cry, left to laugh, or the other way round. Long before these English examples, however, Theocritus (Idylls, c.275 bc) wrote 'My right eye itches now, and shall I see my love?'. The eyes can also be significant in other ways; by their colour, size, shape or other detail they can betray a person's true character, or simply be unlucky or even dangerous in their own right. Cross-eyed or squinting people are most often singled out in this respect: 'A person that is blear-eyed, googled and squinting signified malice, vengeance, cautell and treason' (Shepherd's Kalendar, 1503) or 'People who squint are said to be of a penurious disposition, but punctual in their dealings' (both quoted by Lean). Most references simply state that it is unlucky to meet a crosseyed person, although some maintain that it is all right if they are of the opposite sex to you.
   For the widespread belief that certain people can inflict harm simply by their glance, see under *evil eye. See also *eyebrows; *eyelashes.
   ■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 143; Lean, 1903: ii. 20, 193, 201, 311.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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