Why Is It Called a Bullseye?

If you’ve ever done anything that requires accuracy, you’ve seen the term “bullseye” used for getting your accuracy dead-on. The term seems pretty self-explanatory at face value; a bull’s eye is pretty small, and hitting something small would be considered an achievement in a “hit something accurately” contest. But why didn’t we settle on a different eye—or a different similarly-small-object in the popular lexicon? Why is it called a bullseye?

Entering the lexicon

Apparently, one of the earlier uses of the term “bullseye” in any context is 1825. It wasn’t used in the “hitting-a-small-target-with-accuracy” context, though. Back then, it referred to a kind of hard candy. However, the term bullseye also dates back to the 1680s when referring to small holes that looked like (you guessed it) a bull’s eye. 

“Bullseye” wouldn’t start taking on its target-centric meaning until later—but only a bit later. People started using the term to refer to a target’s center by 1833, particularly in archery. This was, in part, owed to the intuitive conclusion you first reached when you thought of the term. Targets were named such because they were small, and also kind of looked like eyes, being a small circle with an even smaller one in the middle. By 1857 “bullseye” would also come to mean “a shot that hit the mark,” which is like… kind of just the reverse of referring to the target. Others assert that the target-connotation didn’t take shape until the 1880s.

A similar “on-target” idiom, “on the nose” is also thrown around in sports, and is colloquially used to mean exactness like “bullseye” is. There isn’t much of a connection between the two, though of its proposed origins only one has something to do with targets. Some allege that “on the nose” comes from boxing, where the opponent’s nose is considered a target. Others allege it has to do with horse racing, with people betting “on the nose” of their respective horses. This use dates back to 1948. 

Why bulls, though?

The term “bullseye” began with archery, but not within the context of shooting for sport. The most common theory dates back to how English archers would train when bows and arrows were still in use. It was thought that archers would train using the skulls of bulls, the thought being that if the arrow could crack a bull’s skull it would probably also crack a human’s. 

Obviously, some people like flexing really hard, and some archers would aim for the eye socket. You know, the bull’s eye. 

See if you can mix your bullseyes and geography here.