Bug Eyed – Meaning, Origin and Usage

You may feel confused and offended if someone says you are “bug-eyed.” This curious phrase has several meanings. This post explores what it means to be bug-eyed and where this expression originated. We also show you how to use the term “bug-eyed” in a sentence.


The slang phrase “bug-eyed” has two distinct meanings. It can refer to:

  • Someone with a medical condition that causes bulging or protruding eyes. These conditions include Graves’ Eye Disease and thyroid eye disease.
  • Someone whose eyes (figuratively) appear to bulge or protrude as a result of shock, fear, or greed.

You will have seen “bug eyes” in cartoons — exaggerated features clearly convey characters’ emotions, and cartoon characters often have popping eyes when they spot something they are excited about or are scared.

Example Usage

Are you still not sure how to put the phrase “bug-eyed” into action? These example sentences may inspire you and clarify what bug eyed means:

  • “You should have seen me when I laid eyes on that perfect wedding cake. I was totally bug-eyed!”
  • “The new neighbor is a funny little fellow, and he’s bug-eyed too. He almost looks like a cartoon character. I get the creeps whenever I spot him.”
  • “You shouldn’t call someone with a disease bug-eyed. That would not be very respectful. The correct term to use is bulging eyes, but it is even better not to mention it at all.”


The slang phrase “bug-eyed” likens bulging eyes in humans to bugs’ eyes. Spiders and other arachnids are sometimes called bugs, but the phrase speaks of insect eyes.

Insects have notoriously large eyes that consist of thousands of specialized lenses that essentially act as “mini eyes.” Most insects have five distinct eyes, which serve different purposes, when they reach their adult life stages. However, two of these are especially prominent.

The term “bug-eyed” is, as such, a visual reference to a phenomenon most people are familiar with.

Bug-eyed can refer to two different concepts.

The first and older meaning calls people with unusually large and protruding eyes bug-eyed. Multiple chronic medical conditions can cause people to have bulging eyes. The medical term for this particular symptom is “exophthalmos.”

People will be offended if you refer to patients with this symptom as bug-eyed, and you are advised to avoid the phrase in that context.

The second meaning refers to the way someone’s eyes may widen in fear or awe. You can say that someone was “bug-eyed” if they were excited to spot a product they really wanted to buy, or if they were startled by a horror movie, for example.

You will often see “bug-eyed” characters in cartoon shows and comic books because this feature clearly conveys the emotions characters experience.

Phrases Similar to Bug Eyed

Instead of bug-eyed, you can use more polite phrases to describe the phenomenon:

  • Bulging eyes.
  • Protruding eyes.

“Bug-eyed monster” is an interesting related phrase. A bug-eyed monster is an alien (extraterrestrial), and the expression is derived from the way in which aliens are traditionally drawn.

Phrases Related to Bug Eyed

Other popular phrases that contain the word “eye” include:

  • A sight for sore eyes — meaning you are happy to see someone.
  • To keep an eye on something — to pay close attention to it.
  • To turn a blind eye — to pretend not to notice something.

What Is the Correct Saying?

The correct saying is “bug-eyed.” Someone with protruding eyes may be called bug-eyed, but you can also use the phrase to describe a state of excitement or fear.

Ways People May Say Bug Eyed Incorrectly

It is considered rude to call someone with protruding eyes “bug-eyed.” Stick to calling overly excited or scared people bug-eyed if you don’t want to cause offense.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Bug Eyed

You can call someone bug-eyed if their eyes suddenly grow big when they spot something they love or  are startled by something scary. You can also say you are “all bug-eyed” about something.

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