The only GIMLETS that I am familiar with are made with vodka or gin and don’t have much to do with eyes (except perhaps getting cockeyed), so I decided to check into this and also see if there was possibly any relation between the two – there wasn’t.<2005 “But the saga also suggests a parallel cautionary tale, one that instructs reporters to cast a gimlet eye at the stew of self-interest and vanity . . . .”—‘Time Magazine,’ 13 June>
GIMLET EYE: 1) a sharp or piercing glance. 2) an eye that appears to give a sharp or piercing look. 3) a squinting eye [[original meaning but less common today]].
The expression GIMLET EYED first appeared in print in 1752 and the idea of piercing or sharp came from the fact that a GIMLET [circa 1420] is a small, sharp, woodworking tool with a screw point, grooved shank, and cross handle for boring holes. The word GIMLET has also passed into an adjective describing sight, understanding, etc.: acute, sharp, piercing. <“He is a man with a gimlet eye for the future.”>
GIMLET: a cocktail made with gin or vodka, sweetened lime juice, and sometimes soda water.<1752 “She has a Sister at Hampton-Court . . . she had but one Eye, indeed, but that was a Piercer . . . we were called the GIMLET-EY’D Family.”—‘Taste’ (1781) by Foote, I. page 10>
<1785 “’GIMLET-EYED,’ squinting.”—‘Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’ by Grose>
<1894 “‘What said ye yer name was?’ said the old dame again, looking at me with her GIMLET EYES.”— ‘The Raiders; Passages in the Life of John Faa’ by Crockett, page 238>
<1952 “As late as 1943, he [[the traditional British diplomat]] needed two reputable sponsors, preferably dukes, and had to survive a board of purse-lipped oldsters with a GIMLET EYE for the cut of a fellow's jib and the sturdiness of his pedigree.”—‘Time Magazine’ 11 February>
<1983 “A swift, sidelong stare which manages to be GIMLET and gleeful at the same time.”—‘Sunday Telegraph,’ 9 October, page 7/1>
<2002 “McPhee [[Pulitzer-prizewinning author]] not be the consummate angler, but he has a GIMLET EYE for the ‘mot juste’ [[exactly the right word]], as when he describes the ‘Cretaceous’ look of a backhoe.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 25 November>
Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins
GIMLET: A ‘healthy’ cocktail invented by a naval officer. Anyway it was a lot healthier than drinking gin neat [[never saw 'neat' used this way but assume it here means pure, straight, undiluted]], which is exactly why Sir. T. O. Gimlette devised the ‘gimlet’ that commemorates him. Gimlette, a British naval surgeon [[It must get old operating on navels!]] from 1879 to 1917, believed that drinking straight gin harmed the health and impaired the efficiency of naval officers, so he introduced a cocktail that diluted the gin with lime juice . Today the gimlet is made with gin or vodka, sweetened lime juice, and sometimes soda water.
____________________<1928 “The ‘GIMLET’ we were introduced to . . . at the Golf Club: and it proved to be the well and flavorably known ricky, but described as ‘gin, a spot of lime, and soda.’”—“I’ll Never be Cured’ by D. B. Wesson, iii. page 73>
<1937 “Standing about in the ward-room accepting with gracious melancholy ‘GIMLET’ after ‘GIMLET.’”—‘Present Indicative’ by Noel Coward, IX. page 378>
<1953 “A real GIMLET is half gin and half Rose's Lime Juice and nothing else.”—‘Long Good-Bye’ (1959) by R. Chandler, iii. page 18>
(Oxford English Dictionary, Random House and Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionaries, American Heritage Dictionary)
Ken G – June 7, 2005