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I have seen a humor sketch in which three employees who sit in front of their cross-eyed boss is complaining because they never know who the boss is talking to. The dialogue:

— Employee 1: Señora Marisa, tenemos que conversar.
— Boss: ¿Qué pasó?
— Employee 2: Tenemos que saber cuál es el ojo que vale.
— Boss: ¿Qué?
— Employee 2: Es que hay un ojo fumando y otro recogiendo el cabo.

The English subtitle is translated as "One eye really looks and the other is dead weight" in the subtitles.

  1. I don't understand how "fumar" became "to look". Is this a slang? If so, is it a regionalism?

  2. Does "recoger el cabo" really means "to be a dead weight" ? Is it a regionalism?

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According to the Diccionario de Americanismos, “un ojo fumando y otro esperando el cabo” (also with ...pidiendo el cabo and surely with other verbs, as in your examples) means “ser bizco, i.e. to suffer from strabismus (a condition in which the eyes do not properly align with each other when looking at an object). The expression is used in Cuba.

It's not that fumar is slang for "to look". The whole phrase looks like it could be related to seamen's jargon and customs. If cabo means "rope" and fumar is metonymical for "doing nothing, relaxing", then one of the eyes is busy waiting for a rope to be thrown (so as to catch it and secure the ship), while the other is calmly smoking a cigar. That is, one of the eyes is looking out, working, paying attention, while the other is doing nothing useful and looking elsewhere.

This is entirely my guess; I haven't found any explanation online for this expression.

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This appears to be a folksy or creative expression. I interpret it like this: You're looking in two directions at once. One direction is focusing on smoking your cigarette, and the other is focused on picking up the butt from the sidewalk. "Cabo" can be "end" -- e.g. the end of a piece of rope. So I would guess that here it is the end of the cigarette. See https://www.spanishdict.com/translate/cabo.

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I agree with the answer given by @aparente.

I wanted to expand it a little (something better possible here rather that in a constrained comment box) since there is a nuance i did not catch initially: the boss's vision deficit appears to be one as of a one-eye blind person who also happens to have a case of eye outward deviation (exotropia strabismus)*

The situation painted between the employees and their boss, makes a singular one. The expression brought here for analysis

Es que hay un ojo fumando y otro recogiendo el cabo.

Is one as creative as you could find, in all its political-incorrectness, wit and expressive power. I find it hilarious that they want to find out "which eye they should care about when being watched over" (!!), and that they resource to use a smoking vs working metaphor when referring to their abilities . The phrase in question opposes a not doing anything productive ("smoking" a cigar, restfully so), to performing an useful chore ("recogiendo el cabo")

For what it appears

recoger el cabo

means some common nautical action (like pulling and retrieving the end line that holds an anchor in a sailing boat —something likely of a deep cultural ground and widely understood in a Caribean island of fishermen)

The topic can give a glimpse on the playful irreverence of a culture, and the function of the language to alude humoorsly to something sensitive to talk about.Making fun of someone's condition or disability —something taboo or cruel in other cultures or contexts—, is often a way in Latin american countries to de-dramatize life, lightning the already heavy burden it carries.

For instance, in Argentina, you could hear jokes of the likes too: to mock (make fun of) someone with strabismus, one would say:

Cuando se sube al omnibus, con un ojo paga el boleto y con el otro busca asiento

meaning that

When he/she gets on a bus, he/she pays for the ticket with one eye and looks for a seat with the other

PS: Note that the situation is slightly different to the Cuban allusion, because in this last presented both eyes do work

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  • Were you saying "exactly" do agree with my answer, or were you talking to OP? // It looks to me like you're answering a different question than what OP asked. If the question were, What's an idiomatic way to make fun of someone who is cross-eyed, your answer would be on point. – aparente001 Dec 7 '19 at 18:02
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    @aparente001, good point. May be i should have commented your answer only (expanding on another similar expression I happen to know) would it it better to remoáe it as an answer (and make it a comment of your response)? Or should I edit it (the word "exactly") as to remove that confusion? – ipp Dec 7 '19 at 18:19
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    Good idea. I do think your contribution would work better as a supporting comment, rather than an answer. (However, I guess the person who upvoted your answer would disagree.) – aparente001 Dec 8 '19 at 0:56
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    I think removing Exactly would work. For me this answer helps by giving more context behind the expression which the OP asked about. It seems a bit long for a comment to @aparente001 answer. – mdewey Dec 8 '19 at 11:50
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    @mdewey and user2325442 - I've proposed an edit, see what you think. – aparente001 Dec 8 '19 at 18:53

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