Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Eavesdrop


Eavesdrop

The word eavesdrop has a poetically beautiful etymology.

It comes from Middle English, born of the Old English word, yfesdrype.

Eaves are, of course, those bits of a house’s roof that stick out from the house.

Historically, the eavesdrip was the line on the ground where the rain or morning dew dripped from the eaves. In time, this became a legal term, used to determine – in part – how close one house could be built to the next house. In time, the droplets falling from the eaves acquired the moniker eavesdrops. Soon after that, nosey people who stood close enough to their neighbors’ homes to hear what was going on inside were called eavesdroppers, since standing so close put them in the eavesdrip. Soon, the British legal system happily applied the term eavesdropper to nosey listeners.

Is that poetry, or what?

Good followers, what have you to say about this transformation, or about your experiences being eavesdropped upon, or possibly eavesdropping? Writers out there, I would submit that we find more eavesdroppers in fiction than in real life – true or unfounded hogwash?


My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, RandomHouse.com, The Word Detective, & The OED.

6 comments:

  1. Fascinating, as usual. It makes such elegant sense that eavesdropping would have something to do with eaves. I'm not sure there are fewer eavesdroppers in real life. At least I sure know a lot in the writing community. Well, maybe I'm outing myself. It's such a great way to get good dialogue ideas!

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  2. Love this. Funny how a word can be used so casually without thought as to how it breaks down. I never made the correlation with actal eaves. Fascinating. You used another word that I've never broken down...hogwash. What exactly is a hog wash anyway?

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  3. I think people who eavesdrop (or even yfesdrype) should have to wear raincoats in public.

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  4. Steve Anne & Christine,
    Steve, that may explain Mrs. Koblentz, who lived across the street from my family when I was but a youth. Plastic raincoat in 100 degree weather? Hmmm. Now I know she was just letting us know she was listening in! Christine - I checked on hogwash & it was originally synonymous with pigslop, then morphed into the meanings we appreciate today. Anne, I'm with you in terms of authors being eavesdroppers. We're an insufferable lot.

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  5. I always figured it had to do with house eaves, but it's fascinating to know the full evolution... (and it makes me feel "smart" cause I knew where it came from!)

    In real life I find myself eavesdropping on all kinds of conversations, which is a fantastic way to get jump-start phrases and ideas for my fiction. Some of my best pieces began life as an eavesdrop. So, chalk one up in both columns for me (I just love to do double-duty!).

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    1. Ahoy Susan,
      Thanks for dropping by. I'm pleased to have contributed to your feel-smartishness. And keep up the eavesdropping; it pays off.

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