Saying it all with just an eye look

Every language has words or phrases that address a concept particularly well, and often these can’t be translated into other languages. Sometimes we just use the original phrase, because it does the best job. A good example is the French je ne sais quoi, which means ‘a certain something’ – an indescribable quality that makes something or someone attractive or distinctive.  Many foreign phrases have that certain je ne sais quoi that our native tongues can’t match.

I’ve recently come across another phenomenon – where a non-native speaker creates a phrase that doesn’t exist in English, can’t really be called correct, and yet somehow describes the situation better than any phrases I can think of.

In a movie review, the writer talks about how the actor manages to convey drama and suspense, all with “a cigarette, a handshake, and an eye look”.  Now, I know exactly what she means by eye look, even though it’s not standard English.  It’s more specific than facial expression, and glance doesn’t have enough strength to do the job.  The look in his eyes doesn’t really convey the same kind of eye contact, and everything else I can come up with just isn’t quite as simple or effective.

Yet, eye look is still not “correct”, and not for any reason I can put my finger on.  It’s just not a normal collocation.

I think that the fact that these days there are a lot more non-native speakers than native speakers of English will lead to many more examples like this, and maybe eventually getting the message across will be more important than the words that comprise it.

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