What Does Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed Mean?

Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed Meaning

Definition: Alert and eager with lots of energy.

This expression means to be enthusiastic, often unnaturally so, particularly at a time when others are less than keen.

This phrase is often used to talk about someone who is unusually alert and chipper in the morning when others are groggy from sleep, but it can refer to any time of day when someone’s enthusiasm stands out from the crowd.

Someone who is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is happy and excited for the task at hand.

Origin of Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed

wide eyed and bushy tailedBright-eyed and bushy-tailed are two terms that developed independently of each other. Bright-eyed supposedly comes from the late 1500s, while bushy-tailed is said to have hailed from 1865-1870, though no direct source is clear for either of them.

They were seen together for the first time in talking about a squirrel, which did, in fact, have bright eyes and bushy tail.

In St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People, published in 1912 by William Lee Jenks, we can read about the impossible attempt to capture the following in a painting,

  • …to see the wild pigeon, chewink, fox sparrow, bobolink, scarlet tanager, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed squirrel, the graceful motions of water birds…

The phrase began to be used metaphorically shortly after that, alluding to a squirrel’s friskiness as a way to say someone is feeling lively.

Examples of Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed

bright eyed and bushy tailed originIn the modern day, this phrase is often used to talk about having energy in the morning.

  • Josephine woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for the day.

-or-

  • Joe went to bed early so that he’d be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the trip the next day.

It can also be used ironically, as in, “How are you this morning Laura?” “Oh, just lovely. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I only slept for four hours last night.”

More Examples

  • Some young children are early risers, waking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed even on weekends. But not all. –Montreal Gazette
  • “I still did not feel as energetic, bright eyed and bushy tailed as I should have,” the London-based designer says. –South China Morning Post

Summary

To be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed means to be alert and energetic.

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