Thursday, February 17, 2011

A word for those who listen clandestinely

Have you ever wondered how certain words came to be part of our language?  Eavesdropping, for example.  It happened to me last week during a conversation with my seven-year-old granddaughter. After I explained the meaning of eavesdropping as listening to private conversations without the consent of the participants, I wondered how the two parts of the word related to listening surreptitiously.

I found the answer on The Phrase Finder:     EAVESDROP - ".comes to us virtually unchanged from Anglo-Saxon days. In those times a house had very wide overhanging eaves, not unlike those that may still be seen on thatched cottages in Devon. Since rain gutters and spouts were unknown then, the purpose of the wide overhang was to allow rain to drip safely away from the house's foundation. So the 'eavesdrip,' which later became 'eavesdrop,' provided a sheltered place where one could hide to listen clandestinely to conversations within the house."  From "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988.) 

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