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May 22, 2018 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Eyebrows, we all have them, but what are they actually for?
posted by Rumple (65 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's really only one MeFite we need to hear from on this topic
posted by mondo dentro at 12:02 PM on May 22, 2018 [72 favorites]


Should this be in MeTa?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:05 PM on May 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


Moddlebrow?
posted by Rumple at 12:05 PM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


I mean, it's a direct question to a mod.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:05 PM on May 22, 2018 [9 favorites]


I've heard that "keeps stuff out of your eyes" explanation before, but honestly... I've never had my eyebrows catch anything. They are like the first spring growth on bare, newly reseeded soil. The only thing they'll ever catch is flak for excessively insolent expressiveness -- on a good day.
posted by inconstant at 12:13 PM on May 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


When it comes to evolution, the question isn't "What is [x] for?", it's "What use was found for [x]?", with a possible explanation of "None at all."
posted by Etrigan at 12:15 PM on May 22, 2018 [15 favorites]


the purpose of the Eyebrows is to flip out and kill moderate people
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:15 PM on May 22, 2018 [10 favorites]


how will anyone know if i am judging them without the people's eyebrow
posted by poffin boffin at 12:19 PM on May 22, 2018 [20 favorites]


Wherever I goes,
I brings my eyebros;
My eyebros and I goes
Together.
Through thick and through thin,
Plucked out or grown in,
Wherever we've been,
It's together!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:20 PM on May 22, 2018 [12 favorites]


On first blush I read this as "Eyeballs, we all have them, but what are they actually for?" and thought the question rather self-explanatory.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:21 PM on May 22, 2018 [8 favorites]


So I can reflexively raise one up high at someone when they're talking nonsense at me?
posted by Burhanistan at 12:27 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]




From the list of things no one ever told me about getting old:

If you don't groom your brows you will eventually be able to non-proverbially knit them together.
posted by loquacious at 12:29 PM on May 22, 2018 [8 favorites]


We're for a more progressive income tax system, Medicare for all, and robustly-funded public education!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:47 PM on May 22, 2018 [143 favorites]


Well then, count me as Eyebrows as well!
posted by blurker at 12:50 PM on May 22, 2018


Although on the actual topic of the article, I 100% buy the social function theory; my heavy eyebrows are like a super-power that make me fascinating to babies and dogs -- who are both hugely invested in interpreting human faces but need some extra cues! My eyebrows are like giant signs that say LOOK HERE FOR EMOTIONAL CLUES! I swear to God they also make strangers tell me their life story on public transit. Especially given that my eyebrows are dark and my skin is pale, my face is very "legible," even at a distance.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:52 PM on May 22, 2018 [35 favorites]


Eyebrows, huh, yeah.
What are they good for?
Absolutely nothing.
Eyebrows, huh, yeah.
What are they good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it again,
Eyebrows, huh, good god, ya'll.
What are they good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me.
They ain't nothing but a heart breaker.
(Eyebrows) got one friend, that's the undertaker.
Oh, eyebrows have shattered many a young mans dreams.
Made him disabled, bitter and mean.
Life is much too short and precious
to spend having eyebrows these days.
Eyebrows can't give life,
They can only take it away!
posted by Naberius at 1:15 PM on May 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


i've read accounts of how certain facial expressions (e.g. broad smiling) dont really translate across all cultures as meaning the same thing. i wonder if eyebrow-based expressions are more universal?? something to think about when next in a foreign country with a language barrier.
posted by wibari at 1:47 PM on May 22, 2018


I once got laughed out of a room for floating the "keep stuff out of your eyes" model. It certainly works that way for suncreen-laden sweat pouring off my brow (sorry), and my cat's eyebrows certainly rake all the dust bunnies out of her environment. So I'd surmised that they were probably advantageous based on keeping *blood* out of one's eyes. Cue the endless mockery. Still getting mocked, twenty years later.
posted by janell at 1:47 PM on May 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


Now explain the philtrum on your upper lip. What's that for? And why is there no MeFite with "philtrum" as part of their username?
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:54 PM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


i had my migraine botox a few weeks ago and my stupid eyebrows won't move and it's incredibly fucking tragic that i have to choose between maybe 2-3 fewer skullcrushing headaches per week or the ability to make faces at people i dislike

no one suffers like i suffer
posted by poffin boffin at 1:57 PM on May 22, 2018 [30 favorites]


If you're still curious about what eyebrows do, get a friend to shave off one of yours (don't let them tell you which one, so the experiment is randomized), and just see what happens.
posted by ckape at 2:13 PM on May 22, 2018 [11 favorites]


poffin boffin, have you considered carrying around a series of cue cards with discouraging expressions on them?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:15 PM on May 22, 2018 [9 favorites]


no but i have a photo of only my middle finger pointed at the viewer ready to air drop at all times
posted by poffin boffin at 2:21 PM on May 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


Keeping water from running down your forehead into your eyes? Surely the communicative function developed later.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:24 PM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Wait, I have a brow ridge. I also had a monobrow until I aggressively plucked out the middle part for ages. Does that mean I'm a neanderthal?
I haven't thought about it for years, but suddenly I remember looking at myself in the mirror as a teen and realizing I look like an ape.
I still get stuff in my eyes, so I don't believe it's there to protect my eyes. Sad.
posted by mumimor at 2:32 PM on May 22, 2018


The brow ridges in archaic humans also serve no obvious function in relation to chewing or other practical mechanics – a theory commonly put forward to explain protruding brow ridges. As when the ridge was taken away there was no effect on the rest of the face when biting. This means that brow ridges in archaic humans must have had a social function – most likely used to display social dominance as is seen in other primates.

I don't know anything about science. Even so, I can recognize nonsense. Saying that "this means that brow ridges in archaic humans must have had a social function" is just silly. Etrigan made the same point, more politely, above. Every single thing about living creatures does not necessarily have a function. This annoys me so much, and I am a liberal arts graduate who can barely count. How do real scientists cope?

This is not a criticism of the OP; after all, we got a wonderful comment out of Eyebrows McGee as well as some poetry so I am not complaining about this thread.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:37 PM on May 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


Uncle Leo?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:50 PM on May 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


You know the old saw:

God gave us one mouth and two eyebrows, because He wants us to something something twice as much as we talk.
posted by chavenet at 2:54 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


The purpose of eyebrows is for them to grow wild and unruly when you get older in order to communicate to younger folk that you are eccentric as fuck.
posted by srboisvert at 3:01 PM on May 22, 2018 [15 favorites]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow:"Keeping water from running down your forehead into your eyes? Surely the communicative function developed later."

As a bald man who sweats, very much this - I had zero idea just how much sweat the human head produces until I no longer had any hair to wick it away.
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:05 PM on May 22, 2018 [10 favorites]


Clearly, eyebrows are for winning Presidential elections with. This is why Dennis Kucinich is unelectable.
posted by flabdablet at 3:53 PM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


ಠ_ಠ
posted by Fizz at 4:10 PM on May 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


How do real scientists cope?

I've had gardeners warn me that if you water plants when the sun is out, the water drops will act as tiny lenses and burn holes in the leaves. Maybe I could convince them with rational argument, but instead I tend to scream "HAVE YOU EVER GONE SWIMMING? HAVE YOU EVER BEEN BURNT BY THE DROPLETS ON YOUR SKIN?"
posted by acrasis at 4:19 PM on May 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


What ABOUT eyebrows?
posted by curious nu at 4:20 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've heard that "keeps stuff out of your eyes" explanation before, but honestly... I've never had my eyebrows catch anything

I am a 52 year old white male with a giant grey beard and long grey hair who has never had his eybrows trimmed. Last Halloween, I chose to portray Gandalf.

In The Hobbit, on the occasion of Gandalf's first published appearance in a work by J. R. R. Tolkien, the don writes

"But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat."

I employed a beard prosthetic and a plastic staff in my costume, and went to great lengths to source and shape a seamless bluish grey woollen felt conical wide-brimmed wizard's cap. But I had no need for prosthetic eyebrows, as my longest eyebrow hairs approach five inches in length. They may not *actually* stick out beyond the edges of my broadbrimmed skyhat, but they damn sure do flip down in front of my eyes like a cage if I do nothing to dissuade them.
posted by mwhybark at 4:29 PM on May 22, 2018 [9 favorites]


(a few pix, for the curious)
posted by mwhybark at 4:37 PM on May 22, 2018 [27 favorites]


Off-topic, but: that is one dope-ass felted wizard hat.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:47 PM on May 22, 2018 [8 favorites]


It was sourced from a Spanish seller on Etsy, and appears to have been hand felted from Catalan wool and dyed a deep indigo as a member of a conical cap line. It was shipped unshaped (and deep indigo), and I shaped and recolored it here in Seattle over a period of time. Don't tell the elves, but I found grey and sky-blue spray paint to be my most effective colorants. It took me back to high school, using spray paint to dye and shape my mohawk.
posted by mwhybark at 5:03 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I wish wish wish I could raise one eyebrow on command. It is a facial expression that is very suited to my temperament. Alas.

Although I suppose I can raise ONE eyebrow on command. [proceeds to flag entire thread]
posted by Grandysaur at 5:10 PM on May 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


The Etsy product listing, from merchant CostureroReal. Please note the listing link above defaults to black and the item I ordered was the dark blue. The hat arrived with no sizing or shaping, a flat, floppy cone of about 1/4 inch thick in oily wool. I did actually wear it in Seattle wintry rain a couple times and adjudicate it suited to brave much colder weather than it ever is likely to. Now, were it to face the mountain winds of Carhadras, one assumes it might well have taken flight.
posted by mwhybark at 5:12 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I definitely learned that when I'm running, I need to just leave my eyebrows alone. They need to stand out, proud and naturally streamlined, in order to channel the sweat to my temples. If I give in to try to wipe them or even scratch them, they get messed up and the nasty, stinging sweat goes right into my eyes.

That said, I have strong instinctive reactions to cute dog eyebrows, so that part totally checks out.
posted by BrashTech at 5:19 PM on May 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


instead I tend to scream "HAVE YOU EVER GONE SWIMMING? HAVE YOU EVER BEEN BURNT BY THE DROPLETS ON YOUR SKIN?"

My skin hairs are not hydrophobic.
posted by flabdablet at 5:50 PM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


I misspent my youth learning to curl my lip like Elvis (wrong side, damn you mirrors!) ... I’m sure one could practice raising one’s one eyebrow.
posted by tilde at 6:05 PM on May 22, 2018


I learned lip curling from Billy Idol! Which rocker are kids taking inspiration from nowadays?
posted by Burhanistan at 6:10 PM on May 22, 2018


I don't know anything about science. Even so, I can recognize nonsense. Saying that "this means that brow ridges in archaic humans must have had a social function" is just silly. Etrigan made the same point, more politely, above. Every single thing about living creatures does not necessarily have a function. This annoys me so much, and I am a liberal arts graduate who can barely count. How do real scientists cope?

Well, the author who wrote those words is a real scientist, one of the co-authors of the original research being described. And yet, my opinion (as a scientist) is that you're right and she's wrong. So I think your first sentence there isn't as true as you think it is. You've correctly identified the sin of "hyperadaptationism," which puts you ahead of many social scientists and almost all evolutionary psychologists.

It's a bit of a weird paper and article. The temporalis muscles which are responsible for mastication attach mostly to the temporal ridge on the skull in non-human primates, not the brow, so the hypothesis they're refuting that the brow ridge served a role in chewing doesn't even make sense to me from a biomechanics perspective. [1] But I'm no expert in this area, so maybe there were/are reasons to think this idea has merit that I don't know of.

The argument that the loss of the brow ridge in Homo sapiens freed up the brow for social communication is also a bit weird to me. The brow already serves a very strong social communication function in most primates. I'm reasonably good at reading social cues from macaques, and small movements of the brow do a lot of work in conveying subtle shades of emotion. If anything, I'd say the arrow goes the other way. Brow movements are so important in primate communication, including in modern humans, that when we evolved protruding foreheads that obscured the line of the brow, it was necessary to co-evolve eyebrows as a way of preserving this communicative modality. Eyebrows McGee's superstimulus eyebrows would seem to be weak evidence in support of this idea.

[1] Anatomy for the curious: you can probably feel your temporal ridge on your skull. It's a very slight bony line that runs from just behind and above your eye in an arc backwards toward the back of your head, on each side. If you clench and unclench your jaw while feeling the side of your head, you'll feel your temporalis muscle flexing. As you move your fingers towards the top of your head, you'll feel a point where that muscle ends, and the flexing stops. Right at that point there may be a noticeable bony ridge -- that's the temporal ridge. Every time you bite down, your temporalis muscles provide the necessary force partly by pulling against the temporal ridge. In many nonhuman primates, the temporal ridge is much more pronounced, because the jaw muscles are much stronger for cracking nuts and such.
posted by biogeo at 8:34 PM on May 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


Having mine shaved off in college by some.....friends, and then mowing the grass at my parents that summer. I can tell ya exactly what they're for.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 8:36 PM on May 22, 2018


do they push the lawnmower
posted by poffin boffin at 9:19 PM on May 22, 2018 [13 favorites]


how long WERE they
posted by poffin boffin at 9:19 PM on May 22, 2018 [8 favorites]


one for the “keeps shit outta yer eyes” hypothesis: I recently went about two years without any eyebrows for... reasons... and had to take to wearing a bandana at all times in the summer months (and the other months if I was working up a sweat at all). sweat was constantly getting in there. I also didn’t have eyelashes, so I didn’t have that backup sweatcatcher, but the eyebrows definitely play a key role now that they have returned.

the social downside was way more intense, though. a bandana can keep shit outta yer eyes all right but it can’t make you not look like a weird smooth alien ape with no feelings.
posted by some_kind_of_toaster at 9:25 PM on May 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


And why is there no MeFite with "philtrum" as part of their username?

My wild ass hot take is that because no one even remembers they have a philtrum much less that there's a word for it until it comes up in a trivia question and everyone goes "Ahhh, I knew that" and then everyone forgets until it comes up in a trivia question again.

The most interesting thing about the word "philtrum" is that it only ranks 4,726th on OED's unofficial "Most useless words in the English language" list, and, further, that it is currently unknown what words are even more useless than "philtrum" because the last person that tried to refresh and maintain the list in 1997 died rather suddenly of acute somnolence.
posted by loquacious at 9:31 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows have stuck around so that humans can get to the point where we put them on animals and it’s really funny.
posted by like_neon at 10:01 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Isn't the philtrum basically the seam where your face fuses together in the middle during embryonic development? If it doesn't fully fuse, you get a cleft palate rather than a philtrum seam.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:02 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I had to tell my wife today that she drew her eyebrows on too high.

She looked surprised.
posted by habeebtc at 10:06 PM on May 22, 2018 [12 favorites]




yes. My eyebrows fell out (after my hair and then other areas) and now sweat and rain cause problems with vision. And sweat stings my eyes a lot more I suppose because more gets in. And I look like someone else. I tried practicing expressions in a mirror to gage how I can communicate those extra bits that eyebrows do and I get such off key results I stopped and won't try again.
posted by Richard Upton Pickman at 10:52 PM on May 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


That animation of a human face coming together in the womb is incredibly wonderful and fascinating, Rumple -- though I won't be too surprised if I see it again later tonight in a nightmare.
posted by jamjam at 11:02 PM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


At the grave risk of opening a rabbit hole, TV Tropes. Surprisingly, I can't find a compilation of Vulcans raising their eyebrows.
posted by bryon at 12:01 AM on May 23, 2018


Clicked for the Eyebrows McGee silliness. Not disappointed.
posted by Bacon Bit at 6:17 AM on May 23, 2018


Fucking eyebrows, how do they work?
posted by duffell at 6:43 AM on May 23, 2018


I learned about philtrums from a Superman novelisation, probably from the 80s. As I recall, only two intelligent species have philtrums: Kryptonians and, conveniently for young Kal-El, humans. It's the sort of thing that sticks in the mind.
posted by tavegyl at 6:54 AM on May 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


*raises one eyebrow Spock style*
Fascinating.
posted by Gadgetenvy at 8:47 AM on May 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


I learned lip curling from Billy Idol! Which rocker are kids taking inspiration from nowadays?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:10 PM on May 22


Mookie Betts! The rockstar of baseball.
posted by pedmands at 10:01 AM on May 23, 2018


I wish wish wish I could raise one eyebrow on command. It is a facial expression that is very suited to my temperament. Alas.

I taught myself to do this as a teen. Basically, I just concentrated on raising my left eyebrow (and ignored the right one that was going up with it). I did this for hours, during long car rides. Up, down, up, down. Eventually, the right eyebrow stopped following along so much and I could suppress the motion.

So yeah, it‘s feasible if you‘re a very, very bored person.

Totally worth it, though. I still raise my eyebrow from time to time and I still feel just as smug about it as the first time!
posted by Omnomnom at 2:03 PM on May 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


oneswellfoop, I found one Phil Trum [real name] who's written a book! He seems like he'd be a good addition to the blue.
posted by drinkmaildave at 10:19 PM on May 26, 2018


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