An exhausting surprise at Jackie’s Alpine “hébergement”
Faire le Sapin, "la flemme" and The Spirit of the Season

Une saccade + Tic Talk: Let's talk about tics (did you know "Tourettes" is named after a Frenchman?)

Mediterranean port of La Ciotat south of France
Our bustling port here in La Ciotat. Today we're talking about a word we share with the French. A tic is "a frequent usually unconscious quirk of behavior or speech" (Merriam-Webster). Read my story and then share your own experiences in the comments. Merci!

TODAY’S WORD: une saccade 

: jerk, twitch (movement)

saccader (verb): to tremble, shake, jerk

A saccade is also a rapid movement of the eye between fixation points.

Audio/Listening: Click the link below to hear the French words in the following story. Then scroll down to the vocabulary list to check your French comprehension.

Click here to begin listening

by Kristi Espinasse

Have you read about a certain eye exercise that improves vision?
Bref, all you do is look left, right, up, down, rouler les yeux, then repeat. Do these ocular rotations several times a day and eyesight will supposedly improve. 

But if that were true I would have 20/20 vision by now—without even trying! Because for years I’ve done the left, right, side-to-side sequence sans s’en apercevoir. I say “unknowingly” because I only became conscious of the repetitive eye movements when we lived at our first vineyard

It was during the busy wine harvest when I stole away for a break in my room. I remember laying in bed “stretching” my eyes in different directions when it struck me I’d been doing this a lot lately and that all this straining could be damaging! What if my eyes stuck that way (or one of those ways)? Even that didn’t stop me from doing the eye equivalent of scratching an itch. (And getting the same sort of relief).

Blink, stretch (left), blink, stretch (right), rouler, rouler…. I didn’t think much more of the “eye-scapades” until recently when the habit seemed to get worse. I began to wonder: is there an explanation for these forced eye movements and how common is it? Do you, dear reader, do such a thing? What’s this thing called?

Is it a simple compulsion? A habit? Un TOC? The internet didn’t list “eye stretching” among other popular obsessions, such as:

⇒ biting one's nails (ronger les ongles)
⇒ pulling one’s hair out (arracher les cheveux)
⇒ picking at one’s skin (gratter sa peau)
⇒ picking one’s eyelashes, eyebrows (arracher les cils, ou les sourcils)

Meantime, I googled an interesting term having to do with repeated eye movements: une saccade (French for “jerk”) is a quick, simultaneous movement of both eyes between two or more phases of fixation in the same direction. According to the Oxford dictionary, saccade means literally ‘violent pull’, (from Old French saquer ‘to pull’).

Tic is big word (often associated with Tourette’s)... maybe that’s why so many of us don’t make the conscious connection between our repetitive behavior and ticcing (ticking?). Here’s a non-exhaustive list of tics (when the following behavior is continuous):

⇒ blinking (clignements des yeux)
⇒ shoulder shrugging (haussements répétitifs des épaules)
⇒ Foot or finger tapping (tapotements involontaires du pied ou des doigts)
⇒ Sniffing (reniflements),
⇒ Throat clearing (raclement de gorge)

Saperlipopette! Looking over the 2 lists above, I realize I am not alone: some of my family members have either une manie or un tic—everything from continuous throat-clearing to incessant hair-pulling to a spectacular neck jerk. It appears that such gestures may be related to fatigue, anxiety, tension, or stress--even excitement or happiness. The heartening news is that,  just like a sneeze, tics can be controlled...

Ha! Tell that to a control freak.


Share your thoughts about tics and manies (compulsions): do you or a loved one suffer from one? Can you name a famous person with one? (Tennis champion Rafael Nadal, who before serving, rubs his ears and pinches his nose and bottom—il frotte ses oreilles, pince son nez et sa fesse. These are knowns as tics or "little routines", for which he is sometimes mocked.). Are all tics related to Tourette’s? Is there a positive side to tics? And do you know of a technique to reduce or eliminate this sometimes embarrassing behavior? Share your knowledge in the comments box.

bref =  in short
rouler les yeux = roll the eyes
sans s’en apercevoir = without realizing it
rouler = roll
une manie = habit, obsession 
un TOC (trouble obsessionnel compulsif) = OCD obsessive-compulsive disorder
ronger les ongles = to bite one’s nails 
arracher les cheveux = pull out one’s hair
gratter sa peau = to pick at one’s skin
arracher les cils, les sourcils = to pick one’s lashes, eyebrows 
une saccade = jerk, twitch
les clignements des yeux = eye blinking
les haussements répétitifs des épaules = shoulder shrugging 
les tapotements involontaires du pied ou des doigts = foot or finger tapping
les reniflements = sniffing
le raclement de gorge = throat clearing
saperlipopette = good heavens!
frotter ses oreilles = rub one’s ears
pincer son nez, sa fesse = pinch one’s nose, one’s bottom
Gilles de la Tourette
From Wikipedia: Tourette syndrome was named by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot for his intern, Georges Gilles de la Tourette, who published in 1885 an account of nine patients with a "convulsive tic disorder".

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Kristi, I always enjoy reading your stories. I think you meant to write “non-exhaustive list” instead of inexhausted. Until next time!

Kristin Espinasse

Bonjour, Sha. Thank you for your helpful note. I am on my way to fix that now. 😊

Ehonda Alperin

Ya liste manque la trichotillomanie. :-)


Hi Kristi,
Yikes...I think I have many Tics or Tons...haha
Thanks for sharing yours .....
Bon Weekend!


Although I understand we all have little tics and quirks, true tourettes syndrome is uncontrollable. I know of a family here where it was passed down genetically. Some symptoms are mild and some are not. Those that have it, who have not so mild tics, are horribly embarrassed by them.

Jennie Jordan

I read your post today with particular interest. I am an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) therapist and am intrigued by your own eye movement discovery. The innovator of EMDR, Francine Shapiro, said she noticed she moved her eyes up to the left and back as she was working out her own issues. Being a researcher, she decided to operationalize her discovery by providing this ‘bilateral stimulation’ to others who also noticed a rapid resolution of whatever had been disturbing. EMDR today is recognized as a highly effective treatment for trauma, and the left-right moves are actually called saccades! So, perhaps you got a little extra benefit beyond eye exercise and actually felt better afterwards!

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you for the info, Jennie. So interesting and helpful!


Merci, Kristi. Je ne connais pas EMDR. Cela semble être un sujet intéressant pour lire à davantage. Amitiés, Joanne


I once attended a therapy session that included some eye movements and it was a revelation and very oddly powerful. That therapist is no longer working and I wish that I could do that again sometime.


I have a slight tell or manie of rocking in my seat. I suspect it comes from my very early youth when learning to play the accordion. Now when stressed I am reminded that I am rocking.

Merci bcp Kristi!!


Well - have never paid any attention to how I move my eyes but I will now. Very interesting.

John H Abeles MD

Is an Englishman with tics suffering from “ limie” disease?


A friend has tried the eye movement exercises in the last two years. She still wears glasses. The take home here, may be that it feels good to make changes to ourselves especially as we age, but also learn to accept some of them. The ones that no matter what you do, life is just change us. I do feel the more we stay up on it, the better off we are.

Ann Murray

When my son was about three years old, he started blinking his eyes repeatedly. The pediatrician said to take him to an ophthalmologist (ha). Instead I took him to a neurologist. He was prescribed Catapres which could be worn in a patch. This really helped. The tics diminished as he grew older and no longer needed the patch. Now he is in his 30s and occasionally has a throat clearing tic but it is not very noticeable. I think this is genetic as my mother had tics and I am told that my paternal grandmother did also. It was not severe enough to be called Tourette’s but probably would qualify as a tick disorder.

Jan Doll

Many years ago as a former French teacher I was studying in a school near Lyon. I was required to give a presentation on a subject of my choice. My young niece here in Canada had been diagnosed with le syndrome de la Tourette, named after George Gilles de la Tourette. It was a subject about which I spoke passionately. She is now an adult and continues to exhibit tics but in a different manner than those she displayed as a child. I think her acceptance makes a huge difference.
Love your blog have followed you forever! Merci Kristi.

Lydie Teeuwen

A constant clearing of the throat can be due to reflux also. I have had this for years and Près Biden was just diagnosed with it.

Catherine Russell

Fellow EMDR therapist here: Great job getting the word out for this incredible therapy!

Catherine Russell

Look for EMDR therapists in your area. Absolutely incredible therapy!

Jill Ferrie

Perhaps doing those eye movements relieves eyestrain. I have found that doing eye exercises to heal dizziness has helped. The exercises were given by a physiotherapist.
Thanks for your posts, they brighten my day.

Carol clark

Interesting post today, Kristy. I have noticed one of my sons and I and maybe my brother, tend to shake one foot when sitting still. It's like we never sit totally still. A nervous tic? I think it's getting worse in my case...ha, but I'm 90. No use stopping now.

A biento, Carol in L.A.

Karen in NY

After many years helping people reduce or eliminate behavior of all sorts I think I've had the most success starting with a best guess as to the cause of the behavior; anything from injury/illness to self-soothing stress to genetic wiring, & lots in between. No long distance functional analysis here, but reading and writing take a lot of eye control and I know your work. After marathon desk work I stretch hands, back, and my eyes don't want to focus on anything. Anyway, our mantra at work was always "rule out medical".

Karen in NY

Yeeeoowwee. I love puns. Nervous tics at a Lyme disease research lab? (Credit to Big Bang Theory)

Rob T

My understanding from my my own son having it is that a diagnosis of Tourette’s requires having both verbal and non-verbal tics. Verbal can be anywhere from the person walking down the street who can’t help but shout obscenities or bark to much more mild like throat clearing. I notice a girl at Church who did this particular whistling noise. Then, it also includes a non-verbal tic or tics which could be something obvious like throwing the head back or something much more subtle, like tightening a certain muscle or eye blinking. I know my son has learned to control the worst of them, but suppressing one generally causes another to arise.


What an interesting subject. Yes, Tourette's is quite more severe than a tic. I had a student in class who would periodically bark and yell obscenities - the other students just accommodated his unusual behavior, which I thought was most generous, although he was rarely sought after in paired activity. Question for Jennie Jordan - I find myself retrieving information by looking up and left, Are a person’s directional eye movements influenced by their handedness? Just wondering. Thanks, Kristi - your ability to always find topics of interest amazes me! Amitiés - Janet

Anne Umphrey

Kristin, It is always such a pleasure to read your stories. I look forward to them every week. I just made a donation, but it wouldn't take my email in the comments line. Thinking of you and your family at this holiday time.

Kristin Espinasse

Anne, Thank you very much for your donation and for using Zelle! Yes, there seems to be an issue with including an email in the notes section at Zelle. I am so glad you wrote. But I would have found you, as your name has graced my inbox before. Thank you for your longtime support! 

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