What does ‘gimlet-eyed’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: gimlet-eyed.

Listening to podcasts has become one of my new favourite pastimes. I never miss Freakonomics and I also make time for Fresh Air, The West Wing Weekly and FiveThirtyEight Elections.

So, whenever  I hear of a podcast that sounds even vaguely interesting to me, I make a point of listening to it at least once to see if I should become a subscriber. A recent article in the New York Times, headlined “Why Self-Help Guru James Altucher Only Owns 15 Things,” tipped me off to James Altucher (pictured above). In the end, his podcasting style didn’t appeal. But I appreciated learning about this fascinating character.

And the NYT article also gave me my word of the week: gimlet-eyed. Here is how author Alex Williams used it:

[James] Altucher is simply practicing what he preaches. Over the last half-decade, this former tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist and financial pundit has reinvented himself as a gimlet-eyed self-help guru, preaching survival in an era when the American Dream — the gold-embossed college diploma, the corner office, the three-bedroom home — seems like a sham. So one by one, he has shed all of them.

I’d heard the word many times before, of course, but had never had taken the time to understand what it meant. It turns out that while a gimlet is both a tool for drilling holes in wood and a mixed drink (gin + lime juice), someone who is gimlet-eyed has a piercing stare.

We can presuppose that gimlet-eyed comes from the tool for drilling holes (have you ever had a pair of eyes drill into you?) But the source of the original term is thought to be the Old French word guimbelet, which was probably of Germanic origin, perhaps from Middle Dutch.

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