Buzzword

smize

verb [intransitive]

to smile with your eyes

smize

noun [countable]

a smile with your eyes

'Amanda smized for the camera as she cuddled up next to her husband-to-be in the photo.'

In Touch Weekly 26th June 2020

'Between her fierce smize and insanely charming smile, it looks as though little Blaze was made for the camera.'

Bravo 17th February 2020

Those mirrored sunglasses, the ones where you cannot see the wearer's eyes, might be more durable and effective than other kinds of shades but, for me at least, there's something a little unnerving about them, which can make conversation feel slightly uncomfortable. I'm guessing my disquiet stems from the fact that eyes can be incredibly expressive, so, unable to see them on someone's face, I'm stumbling in the dark trying to interpret how this person genuinely feels. They might be smiling, but behind those opaque lenses, are they also smizing?

When you 'smile with your eyes', you are smizing, and just like smiles, everyone's smize is different.

Even if you haven't yet come across the word smize, the concept it represents will be familiar to you – the warmth and positivity that a person can instinctively convey by contorting the muscles in and around their eyes. When you 'smile with your eyes', you are smizing, and just like smiles, everyone's smize is different.

Though it might make for a good selfie, deliberate smizing can be more difficult than it looks. The trick, it seems, is to be relaxed and recognize that smizing is more of a feeling than a facial expression. If we think happy thoughts and let them wash over us, a smize is the natural result, not only involving our eyes, but also an instinctive movement of our cheekbones and eyebrows.

At the time of writing, the world continues to grapple with a pandemic that has normalized mask-wearing and made smiles a whole lot trickier to detect. With many mouths now covered when out and about, be it on the metro, at the supermarket checkout or strolling in the park, our ability to smize, it seems, has never been more significant.

Background – smize

The verb smize was coined in 2009 by US model and television personality Tyra Banks, who first used it on reality TV series America's Next Top Model. Banks used the term when teaching contestants to bring expression to their eyes whilst keeping the rest of their face neutral, a customary practice in modelling. The word quickly took hold in photography and modelling, and as shown in the citation above, the phrase smize at / for / into the camera is one of the verb's most common syntactic contexts. By analogy with smile, there's also a related countable noun smize.

Smize is a blend (aka portmanteau) of verb/noun smile and noun eyes. It's an unusual and interesting example because part of the blend is cleverly based on a component word's phonetics rather than its spelling (i.e. /ɑɪz/ rather than eyes). This also conveniently produces the familiar -ize ending seen in many other verbs (compare realize, authorize, prioritize, … etc.).

Though the word is novel, the concept it represents is timeless, observed in Renaissance portrait art through to the silent movies of the 1920s when stars such as Charlie Chaplin were the masters of the smize. Smizing is also linked to the 1960s concept of a micro expression, a term popularized more recently by US psychologist Paul Ekman who is a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. Ekman describes micro expressions as involuntary facial expressions, which occur within a fraction of a second, often without our knowing, and which cause 'emotional leakage', i.e. expose our true feelings.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words. She also writes materials for Onestopenglish.

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This article was first published 6th October 2020.

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