The Walls Have Ears Meaning
Definition: Be careful what you say because someone might overhear you.
Origin of The Walls Have Ears
Imagine that you want to gossip about someone with your friend, and you think that you are alone in the room. If you start to say something private, your friend might warn you that someone is eavesdropping by saying that the walls have ears.
This implies that even when you think no one is listening, someone may still be spying on you.
This expression first appeared in English in the 1600s. However, some sources speculate that it comes from a story that is much older. The origin story may date back all the way to around the year 400 B.C.
The warning allegedly refers to the story of Dionysius, the Greek tyrant of Syracuse (400-367 B.C.).
Dionysius reportedly constructed a cave in the shape of an ear so that he could hear what people were saying in other rooms. His listening posts connected palace rooms that allowed him to hear what his prisoners said from other rooms in the cave.
Over the years, other historic places, including the Louvre in Paris and Hastings Castle in England were said to have such listening posts.
Examples of The Walls Have Ears
This example shows two women discussing some office gossip.
Bella: Did you hear what Tina did at the meeting? She’s so ridiculous.
Hannah: No tell me!
Bella: Well, first she…
Hannah: Wait! Did you hear that? I think someone may be listening in on us. The walls have ears here. Maybe we should wait to discuss this until we leave for lunch.
Bella: Okay, good idea. Let’s do that.
The following example shows two college students whispering in their music class.
Hanh: I didn’t have time to study for this test. Do you mind if I copy your answers?
Hanh: What’s the problem? No one can hear us.
Zhongyi: Yes, they can. The walls have ears. If we are going to talk about this, we need to go somewhere more private.
This excerpt is from an article about business trip etiquette.
- Walls have ears. Even if you’re hundreds of miles from the home office or thousands of feet in the air, never criticize people or projects or air any type of corporate dirty laundry, because you never know who might overhear you. –OC Register
The second example is from an article about professional hockey.
- “Nobody says bad things any more,” says Komarov. “Everyone is a little more aware that the walls have ears,” adds teammate Nazem Kadri. “Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, guys get passionate, it’s going to happen. But not as much as it used to.” –Toronto Star
The phrase walls have ears is a warning that means someone might overhear a private conversation.