I don’t know how many people are still familiar with the old expression of incredulity “All my eye and Betty Martin” (e.g., from Walter De la Mare’s 1930 On Edge: “You might be suggesting that both shape and scarecrow too were all my eye and Betty Martin”), but there’s a good discussion of it by Mark Liberman over at the Log. The eighteenth century (when it appears to have originated) was at least as fond of folk etymologies as we are today, and there are a couple involving implausible snippets of alleged Church Latin overheard by simple British sailors in foreign parts (or ports): “Ah! mihi, beate Martine” or “Mihi beata mater,” neither of which actually occurs in Catholic ritual (I might add that the mistaking of mihi for “my eye” could only occur with the traditional English pronunciation of Latin, unlikely to have been in use abroad). The truth is that nobody knows or is likely to know how it originated, but it’s an enjoyable phrase and one that I hope will somehow make its way back into the vernacular.


  1. Bob Helling says

    I don’t quite get the meaning of this phrase. Is it like the phrase, “my eye” as in “Earache, my eye!”? (Really I just wanted to get the Cheech and Chong reference in. 🙂 )

  2. I just thought to check the OED, and by George they have an entry (not fully updated since 1933):

    Betty Martin, n.

    Origin: Perhaps from a proper name. Etymon: proper name Betty Martin.
    Etymology: In all my eye and Betty Martin at main sense representing an arbitrary extension of all my eye at eye n.1 Phrases 4n(a).
    The identity of Betty Martin, if she was a real person, is not known (compare Betty n.), although she may have been an actress who performed in London in the 18th cent. and went by various names. Compare:
    a1803 C. L. Lewes Mem. (1805) I. 123 The lovely Elizabeth Grace soon after became Betty Martin; and this was the lady to whom the public are so much indebted for the cant and common expression of ‘my eye’ to Betty Martin.

    In slang phrase (all) my eye (and) Betty Martin: ‘all my eye’ (see eye n.1 Phrases 4n(a)).
    1781 S. Crispe Let. 16 Oct. in W. H. Hutton Burford Papers (1905) iv. 69 Physic, to old, crazy Frames, like ours, is all my eye and Betty Martin—(a sea phrase that Admiral Jemm frequently makes use of).
    1785 F. Grose Classical Dict. Vulgar Tongue at Betty Martin That’s my eye betty martin.
    1812 H. Smith & J. Smith Rejected Addr. 104 The knife that I thought that I saw, Was nought but my Eye Betty Martin.
    1859 J. C. Hotten Dict. Slang 1 All my eye, answer of astonishment to an improbable story; All my eye and Betty Martin, a vulgar phrase with similar meaning.
    1930 W. de la Mare On the Edge 108 You might be suggesting that both shape and scarecrow too were all my eye and Betty Martin.

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