The humorous—and now somewhat dated—phrase square eyes denotes:
– eyes fancifully imagined as made square by habitual or excessive television viewing;
– a person characterised as watching too much television.
The image is of the eyes taking on the square shape of early television screens.
According to Norman Sedawie in TV Is Out To Capture You Too!, published in The Vancouver Daily Province (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) of Saturday 28th July 1951, the British-born Canadian and U.S. comedian Alan Young (Angus Young – 1919-2016) used a similar image, that of one large, square eye in the middle of the forehead:
A few generations in the future, people with one large, square eye in the middle of their foreheads and in possession of a very large natural resting area will be a common sight. These people will be owners of television sets.
Frightening as it may seem, this is the fate comedian Alan Young sees ahead for humanity.
The phrase square eyeballs occurs in Looking At TV Through Square Eyeballs, by Dick Bothwell, in a supplement on the coming of television to the Tampa Bay area, published in the St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S.A.) of Sunday 19th April 1953—and the Square Eyeball (in the singular and with capital initials) is a generic phrase designating the television set likened to an object of worship:
“The kids all have square eyeballs.”
That’s the impact of TV in a nutshell, as reported by a Floridian just back from a year in Boston where television is a social fact, like Christine and mothers-in-law.
Well, a large section of St. Petersburg’s burghers will have square eyeballs too, right shortly now.
If this supplement’s editors are to be trusted, the poor man’s theatre will be hitting the bay area like a ton of soap operas in just a few more weeks.
The impact on our social side will be tremendous. Canasta will suffer a near-fatal wallop. Children will learn to sit quietly until midnight, and parental discipline will be given the acid test supreme.
This I get from the same place I got those square eyeballs—a former Times reporter named Carl Schuck, recently returned for a vacation.
What happened to his family can happen to yours.
About a year ago, Schuck, Mrs. Schuck and their children, Dorothy 10, and Happy, 8, left Florida for Beantown and bumped squarely into the Marvel of the Age.
“I thought it was tripe at first,” confessed Schuck, a broken man. “Now, I’m watching it four to five evenings a week.”
Like a barnacle, TV grows upon you. “Everybody’s got a set,” Schuck told me. “Why not? A 17-inch screen for $179.50—two years to pay—nothing down!”
Yep, the family’s back in the home.
“The kids play outside a little,” reported my, agent. “A LITTLE, that is. Play outside half-an-hour, ZIP! Back in to see a program. Been watching it four years some of them, and they’re still that way. Who says people lose interest in TV?”
St. Petersburg loves TV too, from all indications. In my neighborhood, antennae has been sprouting like crab grass the last month or two.
There’s a new look in living rooms. No more the conversational group of chairs and couch. All furniture faces the Square Eyeball, enshrined in the best spot available. (Incense may be burned on top of the set for added class.)
Illustration from Looking At TV Through Square Eyeballs, published in the St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S.A.) of Sunday 19th April 1953:
The earliest occurrence of the phrase square eyes that I have found is from the column TV And Radio, by Kendall McDonald, published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Lancashire, England) of Monday 7th March 1955:
Inventors’ Club comes back to television on April 7. […]
The Inventors’ Club may feature in a link-up between the B.B.C. and British Industries Fair in May. The B.I.F. is offering three prizes—£500, £50, £30—for the best inventions from the Commonwealth (including Britain), and it is hoped to televise from the B.I.F. the prize-winning entries as a sort of extra Inventors’ Club.
By the way—if anyone knows of an invention to cure square eyes due to television watching . . .
The jocular adjective square-eyed means affected by, or given to, excessive viewing of television.
The earliest occurrence of the adjective square-eyed that I have found is from one of the unconnected paragraphs making up the column About Town, published in the Milford Dispatch and Pike County Press (Milford, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.) of Thursday 5th March 1953:
One of the Square-eyed Set
Pierce family has a new television set.