I've never heard the word. But I wonder, do most English speakers understand immediately what the word means?

Example sentence:

One Monday, Mary showed up at work with a shiner.

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    I don't think this can be asnwered very well here. A survey of members of this site isn't likely to be representative and there's unlikely to be a source for data on how well known it is. (I'm British and reckon most people I know would understand it). I'd VTC but I'm holding off in case someone comes up with some sources that suggets popular use/understanding.
    – Chris H
    Jul 21, 2017 at 9:46
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    Most native English speakers would know what a shiner is. Most speakers of American, maybe not. This might be answerable with corpus data, or even dictionary data, showing how the word is normally used.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 21, 2017 at 9:49
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    @AndrewLeach Americans are native English speakers. I don't think shiner is a Britishism. We know it here too; think of all our hard-boiled detective fiction.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 21, 2017 at 10:15
  • @DanBron Yes, there was an earlier comment, now deleted, which occasioned mine. However, data from corpora or dictionaries would be interesting, and would answer the question (and any potential AmE/BrE dichotomy regarding beer).
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 21, 2017 at 10:21
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    @AndrewLeach FWIW, OED marks "shiner" in band 4 of its frequency metric, the data for which is mostly gathered from Google Ngram and "has been crosschecked against data from other corpora, and re-analysed in order to handle homographs and other ambiguities." In its key, it writes of band 4: "most words remain recognizable to English-speakers, and are likely be used unproblematically in fiction or journalism." Black eye is in band 5 (more frequent) Jul 21, 2017 at 18:00

1 Answer 1


Online Etymology Dictionary entry for shine offers this.

...; sense of "black eye" first recorded 1903, American English, in East Side immigrant dialect.

I am an American and I know the meaning. I think that @DonBron was dead on with his reference to hard-boiled detective fiction.


2 informal A black eye. ‘his shiner was throbbing’ ODO.


RaceYouAnytime has a point. So I used Google Ngram to compare "shiner" and "black eye". I used the default 1800-2000 year range and picked British English. In 2000, "black eye" barely edged out "shiner" (0.0000279785% vs. 0.0000311335%).

I switched to American English and "black eye" had more of a lead but not much (0.0000346592% vs. 0.0000398877%). If you allow that "most people" know what a "black eye" is then almost as many people know what a "shiner" is. That is if you believe Ngram.

There is "Shiner Beer" and "black eye contacts" so I would take Ngram with a grain of salt. I based my reply on my own sense of how rarely a word is used in my presence. While not an everyday occurrence there is nothing about "shiner" that would lead me to believe that most people wouldn't recognize it as referring to a "black eye". ODO does tag it as informal so I wouldn't assume 100% recognition either.

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    I don't think this exactly answers the question do most speakers know... You might consider adding an ngram comparison with "black eye," or something of that sort, to measure the relative frequency of the word. You could even make the comparison in both BrE and AmE to see if there's a difference. Just a thought. Jul 21, 2017 at 19:32
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    I'd think most of those "shiner" references are in relation to Shiner Bock, which is quite popular. My feeling is, anyone up to the generations that watched "I Love Lucy" reruns would know what a "shiner" is (it's fairly archaic by the end of the 20th century in the US), but that millennial generations might miss the reference. It's use seems to peak in an era where "Pow! Right in the kisser!" was considered socially acceptable.
    – DukeZhou
    Jul 21, 2017 at 20:24
  • @DukeZhou You got me; I did watch "I Love Lucy" and "The Honeymooners". :-) Jul 21, 2017 at 20:56

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