Raise eyebrows

If something "raises eyebrows", it causes people to be suspicious

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Raise eyebrows

Today’s expression is “to raise eyebrows.” I used it twice, I think. Just pause and think about it for a second and I think you’ll get it. When you raise your eyebrows, you’re skeptical. You’re wondering if something is true, or if something is not quite right. So, if an act would “raise eyebrows,” then that act would cause others to be suspicious. Let’s say you’re an average student. You get B’s, the occasional A, the occasional C, in school—that’s about average I guess. Now you take a standardized test and you get a perfect score. Hmmmm…something’s not quite right here. That would raise some eyebrows. That would cause people to be suspicious that you might have cheated. That’s why the fake test-takers wouldn’t always go for the perfect score. They would think about the student’s overall potential, and they’d get a score that would be very good—better than what the student could do on his or her own—but not so high as to raise eyebrows. Not so high that people would think they were cheating.

Now let’s say you’re pretending to be an athlete. Maybe you’re not exactly built like a refrigerator. That’s kind of a football joke. Maybe you’re not big and strong like an American football player, but your parents would still like to bribe the football coach. If you said you were a quarterback, or an offensive lineman—those guys are big. That would raise eyebrows if you’re only like 160 pounds. Instead, you just say you’re a kicker. In American football, the kickers just go out there and kick the ball a few times and then they get off the field. They don’t have to be the best athletes on the team. So if you’re not a great athlete, but you still want to pretend to be a football player, just say you’re a kicker. That won’t raise eyebrows. One parent joked on the phone, speaking of his son, “He does have strong legs.” Ha, ha ha. That parent didn’t know his conversation was being recorded. By the way, I want to clarify that my joke about American football kickers was just a joke. They are real athletes. I met a NFL kicker once and he was so big he could have picked me up and thrown me across the room.

Did you see the Oscars this year? I didn’t, but I heard that Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper sang the song “Shallow” from their movie, A Star is Born. And from what I’ve read, their performance raised some eyebrows. The two are not a couple, but an article I read said the two gazed into each other’s eyes and their performance nearly ended with a kiss. That would definitely raise some eyebrows—what’s going on here? I, personally, think if that’s what they need to perform that song, then they should do it.

I mentioned a few episodes ago that I was at a funeral for my good old friend Mr. A. At his funeral, several people wore tropical shirts, in honor of Mr. A’s love for the Virgin Islands. Ordinarily, wearing a tropical shirt to a funeral would raise some eyebrows. Something’s not quite right here. But of course everyone there knew it was actually a touching tribute.

I haven’t thought about this until just now, but you always use this expression in the third person. You never, ever say: I raised my eyebrows or that made me raise my eyebrows or I did something to raise my friend’s eyebrows. Never, never. You always say an act raised eyebrows. Very impersonal.

If I said that there were ten million people in the Plain English audience, that would raise some eyebrows. After all, if I had ten million listeners, I wouldn’t have to work a day job! But when I say the Plain English audience is the best audience in the world—that doesn’t raise eyebrows, because everyone knows it’s true.


Okay that’s all for today. Don’t forget to check out MosaLingua, our partner for practicing English via engaging high-tech programs online, including a pronunciation course that will help you with your confidence in English. Check them out at PlainEnglish.com/learn .

Next episode. You. Must. Listen. It’s on Thursday. If you are learning English, if you want to know about the United States, you need to know about this person. He is on television every day. He was in the news lately. He is a nice guy and he has been America’s dinnertime companion for almost my entire life. If you want to guess who I’m talking about, you’d better answer in the form of a question. That’s all I’m saying for now. The mystery will be revealed at 6 a.m. Chicago time when Thursday’s episode comes out—don’t miss it!

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