Idioms about ears are like secret keys to understanding the quirks and colors of language. Imagine your ears as not just tools for hearing but as windows into a world of expressions that tickle, teach, and tell tales.
From ‘having an ear to the ground‘ to ‘lending an ear,’ idioms aren’t just about the ears on your head but about curiosity, attention, and the art of listening. Let’s tune in to the fascinating and fun world of ear idioms, where words play and meanings dance, and discover how they make everyday chat a bit more ear-resistible!
1. Play It by Ear
This idiom is used to describe a situation where someone reacts and makes decisions spontaneously as events unfold instead of adhering to a prearranged plan or script. The term “play” originates from the performance of music, and “by ear” indicates relying on auditory sense and improvisation rather than written music or prior rehearsal.
It’s a phrase for using intuition and flexibility when handling situations, harkening back to musicians who perform without sight of the notes but rather guided by their auditory skill and musical instinct.
2. Word in Your Ear
When someone says they want to have “a word in your ear,” they are indicating a desire to speak to you privately, often about a sensitive or confidential matter. The phrase keys into the idea of closeness – the speaker is not addressing a group, but whispering something into an individual’s ear, signifying discretion. The “word” implies brief communication, while “in your ear” highlights the personal and exclusive nature of this exchange.
3. Lend an Ear
To “lend an ear” is to offer someone your full attention and listen to what they have to say. Lending something typically refers to temporarily giving something you own to someone else, but in this idiom, the “ear” represents one’s capacity to listen. Thus, it conveys willingness and openness to hear someone out, almost as if one could detach their ear and hand it over as a gesture of attentiveness.
4. Have Someone’s Ear
This phrase implies having access to someone, usually a person of influence or power, who will listen to your opinions or ideas. The possession represented by “have” underscores influence or privileged access, while “someone’s ear” illustrates the interactive aspect of being heard by someone who might be able to take action based on what they are told.
5. Give Ear To
To “give ear to” something is to pay attention or listen carefully. In this idiom, “give” means to offer or extend something, and “ear” once again stands in for one’s attention or the act of listening. It expresses the act of prioritizing aural focus on a specific topic or speaker.
6. Walls Have Ears
This idiom is a warning that private conversations might be overheard by eavesdroppers. The personification of “walls” with “ears” creates a vivid image implying that conversations could be listened to through thin walls; thus, one should be cautious about what they say. It brings to light the idea that privacy might be compromised due to unseen listeners.
Receiving “an earful” is often not as pleasant as it might sound—it means to be told something in a manner that is lengthy, intense, or scolding. The “earful” is not a physical object but a figurative amount of speech that fills the listener’s capacity to hear, usually to the point of being overwhelmed or admonished.
8. All Ears
Upon declaring oneself to be “all ears,” a person is emphasizing their readiness to listen intently to what is about to be said. This expression playfully exaggerates the act of listening by suggesting that the listener is made up completely of ears – that they are completely focused on the act of listening without any distraction.
9. In One Ear and Out the Other
Describing information that is “in one ear and out the other” suggests that someone hears but does not retain that information. It evokes an image in which words enter one side of the head (through one ear) and exit directly out the other without being absorbed or considered. The idiom encapsulates forgetfulness or a lack of attention.
10. A Tin Ear
To have “a tin ear” means to possess poor musical discernment or to be tone-deaf, often extending to a lack of sensitivity for nuance in other areas like language or social cues. “Tin” is a common, inexpensive metal, not known for any resonant musical qualities, and using it to describe an “ear” suggests that the auditory faculty is deficient in discerning the finer sonic or emotional details.
11. Music to One’s Ears
This idiom represents hearing news or information that is very pleasing or delightful. The phrase compares the joy one feels when hearing good news to the pleasure experienced when listening to melodious music.
“Music” in this phrase is used metaphorically to symbolize pleasant sounds, and the “ears” are the sensory organs that receive this pleasurable input. This idiom emphasizes the positive emotional response to agreeable or welcome information.
12. Keep Your Ear to the Ground
This idiom refers to staying alert and knowledgeable about the goings-on and trends. Historically, people would literally put their ears to the ground to detect distant sounds, like approaching horses or footsteps.
In this idiom, the “ground” is symbolic of the foundation or source of information, and “ear” signifies focused attention. The phrase suggests vigilance and the active pursuit of information.
An “earworm” is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it has stopped playing. The word “worm” conveys the idea of burrowing or embedding itself, much like how the tune seems to ‘crawl’ into one’s consciousness and lodge itself there. This idiom illustrates how certain melodies or rhythms can be persistent in one’s auditory memory, often to the point of mild irritation.
14. Turn a Deaf Ear
To “turn a deaf ear” means to intentionally ignore someone’s requests, advice, or pleas. The imagery invoked is that of one purposefully becoming ‘deaf’ to what is being said as if rotating one’s ear away from the source of sound. “Deaf” emphasizes the lack of auditory response, and “turn” highlights the act of deliberate avoidance and refusal to acknowledge.
15. Up to One’s Ears
Being “up to one’s ears” in something signifies being deeply immersed or overwhelmed by it, usually work, responsibilities, or troubles. The phrase creates a humorous picture of someone being so inundated that only their ears are peeking out. It is an exaggeration used to emphasize the level of engagement or the burden someone is under.
6. Out on One’s Ear
This idiom means to be expelled or removed from a place with little ceremony, often abruptly or forcibly. Having originated from the physical act of ejecting someone by grabbing their ear, the phrase now figuratively describes any sudden dismissal, with “out” indicating the direction of expulsion and “ear” serving as a synecdoche for the person being removed.
7. Ears Are Burning
If “someone’s ears are burning,” it’s an expression that indicates they have the sensation that others are talking about them behind their back. There is no actual heat involved; rather, it’s a superstition or a figure of speech suggesting heightened awareness or paranoia about being the subject of conversation.
18. Prick Up One’s Ears
To “prick up one’s ears” means to listen attentively, usually due to a sudden interest or alertness to something potentially intriguing. This idiom comes from the animal kingdom, where creatures such as dogs or horses literally lift their ears when they are attentive or excited. In human terms, no physical ear-pricking happens, but the expression vividly captures the increase in focus or attention.
19. Fall on Deaf Ears
When advice, warnings, or requests “fall on deaf ears,” they are ignored or not taken into consideration by the person they are directed at. The imagery here is of sound waves dropping to the ground unused because the listener’s ears might as well be deaf. The “deaf ears” represent a lack of response or acknowledgment from the intended audience.
Being within “earshot” of something means being in a range where sounds and voices can be heard. The “shot” part of this word doesn’t relate to firearms; rather, it is an older use of the term meaning “range” or “reach.” It’s an entirely auditory measure – if you’re within earshot, you’re close enough to hear the sounds emanating from some source.
Misunderstandings and Confusion
21. Bend Someone’s Ear
To “bend someone’s ear” means to talk to someone for a long time, especially about a problem or issue you have, which they might not necessarily be interested in. The phrase suggests that the speaker is figuratively bending the listener’s ear with their persistent talking as if the ear could be physically manipulated by the weight or force of words.
This idiom often implies a one-sided conversation, where the speaker is venting or unloading onto someone who might not wish to listen to that attentively.
22. Ear candy
“Ear candy” is music or sound that is very pleasant to listen to but considered to have little or no intellectual or emotional depth. It typically refers to pop music or tunes with catchy hooks that are easily digested audibly but do not necessarily have a lasting artistic impact. The term “candy” is a metaphor for something sweet and enjoyable, in this instance referring to an “auditory treat” that’s appealing but not necessarily substantive.
23. Keep Your Ear Out For
To “keep your ear out for” something means to remain alert and be prepared to hear something specific, such as news or information. It suggests an active readiness to capture and process incoming auditory information with particular attention to the anticipated details.
The phrase evokes imagery of the listener being on the lookout (or “listen-out“), metaphorically extending their ear into their environment in search of a specific sound or piece of dialogue.
24. Cock an Ear
To “cock an ear” means to tilt or turn your head to listen more carefully, often in response to an interesting or faint sound. The expression originates from the way animals like dogs or cats tilt their heads when trying to pinpoint sounds.
In this idiom, “cock” refers to the action of tilting or angling, and it’s a physical gesture that indicates heightened auditory attention or curiosity.
25. Have an ear to the phone
To “have an ear to the phone” is to say someone is waiting attentively for a call or actively listening for important information over the telephone. This idiom emphasizes the expectation and readiness of the listener, who closely monitors the communication device for any incoming messages, much like the expression “on call.” It encapsulates the anticipation of auditory engagement and the importance of being responsive in communication scenarios.
26. To Have Van Gogh’s Ear for Music
This expression humorously suggests someone has poor listening skills or a poor perception of music, alluding to the famous artist Vincent Van Gogh, who famously cut off part of his ear.
Using Van Gogh’s name in the idiom is a tongue-in-cheek reference to his lack of an ear, implying that the person is similarly lacking in musical ability. It’s important to note that the real Van Gogh’s musical talents or inclinations are not actually related to the phrase; it’s purely an imaginative play on words.
27. Wet Behind the Ears
Someone who is “wet behind the ears” is inexperienced or naive, akin to a newborn or a young animal that is not yet fully dry after birth, particularly referencing the area behind the ears.
This idiom uses the physical condition of being “wet” to imply that a person has not yet been ‘dried off’ or toughened by the experiences of the world. It is often used to describe youthfulness and a lack of worldly wisdom.
28. A Word in Edgeways
This British expression “a word in edgeways” (or “a word in edgewise” in American English) refers to managing to say something when a conversation is dominated by another person or people who talk continuously.
The idea behind “edgeways” is the difficulty of inserting something into a narrow space—metaphorically suggesting that finding a moment to speak in a conversation can be as challenging as positioning a thin edge into a tight gap.
29. Deaf as a Post
This idiom is used to describe someone who is very hard of hearing or who is not listening attentively. It employs hyperbole, comparing a person’s ability to hear with that of a post, an inanimate object that, of course, cannot hear at all. It highlights a significant lack of auditory perception or responsiveness.
30. Selective Hearing
“Selective hearing” describes the tendency of a person to hear only what they want to hear, ignoring other information or aspects of the conversation that are less desirable or comfortable.
Though not a biological condition, this term suggests an almost unconscious filtration system, where the ‘selection‘ is of certain pieces of auditory information that align with the listener’s interests or beliefs at the expense of a broader understanding.
Secrets and Privacy
This idiom is used to describe the act of eavesdropping or secretly listening in on other people’s conversations. The term originates from the old belief that earwigs, small insects, would crawl into people’s ears. As an idiom, it conjures up the image of someone trying to worm their way into hearing private or confidential information.
32. Ear to the Ground
To have one’s “ear to the ground” means to be well-informed or to gather information about the current situation or trends. Like many ear-related idioms, it has a literal analogy to placing one’s ear close to the ground to detect distant happenings, typically vibrations or sounds that signify approaching events or dangers.
In a non-literal sense, it emphasizes the importance of staying attuned to the murmurs and whispers that could indicate significant developments or insider information.
The term “hush-hush” refers to something being very secret or confidential, to the extent that it should not be discussed or mentioned. It is derived from the imperative “hush,” which is a command to be silent or to stop talking. The doubling of the word emphasizes the importance of keeping the information quiet and not allowing it to reach others’ ears.
34. Keep It Under Your Hat
To “keep it under your hat” is an idiomatic expression that urges one to keep a piece of information secret and not disclose it. The phrase dates back to a time when men commonly wore hats, and the idea was that you could keep something as private as if you were hiding it underneath your hat, away from others’ eyes—and, by extension, their ears.
It conveys an image of mental concealment, just as certain as if the information were a physical object hidden away from view, where not a sound or hint of it would escape to reach any listener. This idiom underscores the level of confidentiality expected as if the secret were pressed close to one’s thoughts, secure from the prying ears of the outside world.
35. Safe as in the Ear
This phrase suggests that a secret told to someone is as secure as if it were whispered directly into their ear, emphasizing the close proximity and personal nature of the exchange.
This idiom draws on the imagery of whispering, a form of communication often used to convey sensitive information in a way that ensures it is heard by only the intended recipient. The ear, as the organ of hearing, becomes a metaphorical safe space where secrets can be stored without fear of being overheard or spread further.
36. Little Bird Told Me
The idiom “A little bird told me” is a playful way to reference the acquisition of information or secrets without revealing the actual source. In this phrase, the ‘little bird‘ symbolizes an undisclosed informant, suggesting that the knowledge was gained through indirect, possibly secretive means. This idiom often implies a sense of intrigue or mystery about how the information was obtained as if it were whispered by a bird into one’s ear.
37. On the QT
When something is “on the QT,” it is happening in a secretive or discreet manner. “QT” is an abbreviation for “quiet,” so the phrase shortens the idea of “on the quiet,” reinforcing the need for silence or confidentiality. The idiom suggests subtlety and caution in revealing any information that should be kept under wraps.
38. Let the Cat Out of the Bag
This saying means to accidentally reveal a secret or to disclose something that was meant to be kept hidden. The origin of the idiom is uncertain, with various folk theories suggesting everything from markets to maritime practices as the source.
In any case, the “cat” represents the secret, and “out of the bag” is the act of making it known, potentially alluding to a time when revealing the contents would be surprising or unintended.
39. My Ears Are Sealed
This phrase is a playful twist on the more familiar “my lips are sealed,” shifting the focus from not speaking to not hearing. When someone says, “my ears are sealed,” they are essentially promising that whatever they hear will not be repeated or disclosed to others. This idiom indicates a high level of discretion and confidentiality, assuring the speaker that their words are safe and will not be heard by unintended ears.
40. Keep Mum
To “keep mum” is a chiefly British idiom instructing someone to remain silent or to say nothing about a particular subject. “Mum” is a Middle English word meaning ‘silent‘ or ‘not speaking‘. This idiom promotes secrecy and discretion, upholding the importance of keeping certain information undisclosed.
41. Ear to the Wall
An individual with their “ear to the wall” is someone who is eavesdropping or listening intently to a conversation that is not meant for them. The wall represents a physical barrier that separates the listener from the speakers, yet despite this obstacle, the person is trying to hear what is being said. The idiom paints a picture of someone straining to listen in, highlighting a covert interest in the interactions or affairs of others.
42. Chewing Someone’s Ear Off
To “chew someone’s ear off” means to talk to someone incessantly and often about uninteresting topics, to the point where it may become bothersome for the listener.
It’s a colorful idiom that exaggerates the act of non-stop talking as if the speaker is figuratively gnawing at the listener’s ear with their words. This expression often reflects social situations where one person dominates the conversation, leaving little room for anyone else’s input.
43. Closer to the Ear Than the Tongue
This expression suggests that what we hear from others can have a more significant impact than what we say ourselves. The placements of the “ear” and the “tongue” in the idiom invoke their physical proximity in the body while highlighting the conceptual distance between listening and speaking, indicating a preference or prioritization of attentive listening or the intake of information over one’s own output.
44. Box Someone’s Ears
Historically, “to box someone’s ears” meant to slap or hit someone on the side of their head as a form of punishment or reprimand. The word “box” here refers to striking with an open hand, not a container. In modern times, the idiom may be used more figuratively to suggest reprimanding someone, particularly in a not-so-serious or playful context.
45. A Flea in One’s Ear
If someone has “a flea in their ear,” they have been reprimanded sharply or left with a sense of agitation or irritation, typically due to a rebuke. The idiom creates an image of having an actual flea in the ear, which would be annoying and uncomfortable, to describe the lingering sting of a scolding or critical remark that continues to bother one after the fact.
46. Talk Someone’s Ear Off
To “talk someone’s ear off” is highly similar to “chewing someone’s ear off” and means to talk to someone for a very long time, often about things that might not be of great interest to them.
This expression is hyperbolic, suggesting the continuous act of speaking as if it could physically detach someone’s ear from their head. Within social interactions, it often refers to situations where one party might feel overwhelmed by the other’s conversation.
47. Give Someone an Earful
To “give someone an earful” is a phrase used when you verbally unload a great deal of information, complaints, or opinions onto another person, often without pausing for interaction or response.
It creates an image of filling the listener’s ear with so much talk that it’s as though the words themselves could overflow. It can be used in contexts where a person needs to vent or when someone is subject to a verbal reprimand or a barrage of information.
48. To Lend Someone a Sympathetic Ear
This idiom indicates offering attentiveness coupled with empathy. It goes beyond the simple act of listening to include an element of support and understanding. The listener provides an “ear” that is not just hearing but also feeling the emotions conveyed through the words they are hearing.
49. Not Believe One’s Ears
When someone “cannot believe their ears,” they are so surprised by what they have heard that they question whether it could actually be true. The idiom implies that the information is so astonishing or unexpected that it challenges belief, and the “ears” are a metonym for the sense of hearing that receives such incredible news.
50. Have the Ear Of
To “have the ear of” someone typically involves having their attention and interest, often someone of influence or authority who can be important in decision-making processes. The idiom suggests a relationship or access that allows for communication and influence, indicating that when one speaks, the influential person listens.
Learning and Comprehension
51. In Through One Ear and Out Through the Other
The idiom “in through one ear and out through the other” is used when someone does not pay attention to what they are being told, and the information is immediately forgotten. The visual imagery is of words entering one ear and exiting the other just as quickly, with no retention or consideration happening in between. It highlights an individual’s lack of absorption or commitment to the newly acquired knowledge.
52. Turn a Deaf Ear
This idiom means to intentionally ignore someone’s advice, request, or complaint. This expression conveys a deliberate act of not heeding information presented, as if one has the capacity to disable their hearing to avoid engaging with the subject matter. It reflects an unwillingness or refusal to acknowledge what is being communicated.
53. Hang on to Every Word
When someone “hangs on to every word,” they are listening very attentively to what another person is saying, capturing each utterance as though it were crucially important. The phrase suggests that the listener values the information greatly and gives it considerable attention, akin to clinging to the words as they come out of the speaker’s mouth.
54. Drum It Into One’s Ears
To “drum it into one’s ears” implies repeatedly emphasizing a piece of information to make someone learn or remember it, often against their will. The use of “drum” illustrates the repetitive force used as if beating the information into someone’s mind through their ears, emphasizing a persistent and sometimes vigorous method of teaching.
55. Ears Pinned Back
The expression “ears pinned back” is often used to describe someone who has listened to a severe reprimand or harsh criticism, receiving it with full attention, usually in a submissive or retreatful manner. It picturesquely portrays this act of listening with the metaphor of an animal that folds back its ears when it is scolded or feels threatened.
56. Little Pitchers Have Big Ears
This saying, “little pitchers have big ears,” cautions that children are often listening and can pick up on what is being said, even if the adults are not directly speaking to them.
Referring to young children as “little pitchers,” this idiom suggests their “big ears” symbolize their surprising capacity to overhear and comprehend adult conversations. Thus, adults should be careful about what they say in their presence.
57. Have Your Ear to the Ground
Someone who “has their ear to the ground” is keeping informed about what is happening in a particular area or topic, staying alert to new information or developments. Drawing from the literal act of placing one’s ear close to the ground to detect distant sounds, this idiom suggests attentiveness to the rumblings of information or the buzz of insider knowledge.
58. Play by Ear
To “play it by ear” is to handle a situation spontaneously, without a clear plan, but rather reacting adaptively to how events unfold. The idiom originally refers to musicians playing without sheet music, relying instead on their listening and improvisation skills.
In a broader context, it describes an approach to learning and dealing with matters based on instinct and immediate understanding rather than prearranged strategies.
59. Gift of the Gab
The “gift of the gab” is the ability to speak fluently and persuasively. Even though this phrase does not directly reference ears, it implies that the speaker has developed a skill that affects listeners’ ears, effectively engaging and swaying them through spoken words. The expression conveys the potential power of speech and language in learning and communication.
60. Words Fell on Barren Ears
When words “fall on barren ears,” it means that what is being said is not being understood or taken in by the listener, either due to a lack of interest or an incapability of comprehension.
Similar to how barren land cannot produce crops, barren ears are unproductive in yielding understanding or results from the information provided. The idiom emphasizes a disappointing lack of reception or the futility of trying to impart knowledge in that situation.
Attention and Awareness
61. Ears Perked Up
This idiom means someone has become very attentive or interested upon hearing something. Borrowed from the animal kingdom, where creatures such as cats and dogs perk up their ears when they are alert, this phrase implies a heightened state of awareness or curiosity, suggesting that people figuratively do the same when something piques their interest.
62. Tune Your Ears To
To “tune your ears to” something means to adjust your listening to become more receptive or attentive to a particular source of sound or information. This idiom borrows from the action of tuning a musical instrument or radio, where one carefully adjusts the device to pick up clear sounds. In a non-literal sense, it implies preparing one’s auditory focus for specific details or subtleties.
63. Have an Ear Out For
Having an “ear out for” something or someone involves listening attentively for a particular piece of information or sound. It signifies being on the alert and prepared to notice when that specific thing occurs or is mentioned.
64. Out on One’s Ear
The phrase “out on one’s ear” implies being thrown out or dismissed from a place or position quickly and unceremoniously. Although it usually doesn’t include a literal grabbing of the ear, the idiom carries the forcefulness of the action, as if one is ejected so swiftly that they might land on their ear.
65. Ears Are Flapping
When someone’s “ears are flapping,” it suggests that they are listening intently to gossip or trying to overhear a conversation that they are not a part of. Derived from the image of ears moving like wings trying to catch the sound waves, the idiom playfully captures the act of eager listening, usually for something juicy or scandalous.
66. With Ears Wide Open
When someone listens “with ears wide open,” they are fully attentive and willing to receive information without judgment or bias. The phrase suggests an openness and readiness to consider new ideas, akin to having one’s ears open as far as possible to capture every sound or nuance.
67. To Have One’s Ear on the Pulse
“To have one’s ear on the pulse” merges auditory attentiveness with the idea of being in tune with the most current and active trends or sentiments. The “pulse” here represents the vital signs or liveliness of a situation, and placing one’s ear on it symbolizes being privy to the underlying energy or rhythm of events.
68. A Word in Your Shell-Like
“A word in your shell-like” is a charming and somewhat old-fashioned British idiom requesting someone’s careful listening. Here, “shell-like” refers to the shape of the ear resembling a seashell. The expression lightly suggests private or confidential sharing, as though the words are whispered directly into a curved shell.
69. Not Hear a Peep Out Of
When you “don’t hear a peep out of someone,” it means that you don’t hear the slightest sound or any form of communication from them, especially when you expect to. The idiom uses “peep,” which signifies a soft or faint sound, to describe a complete absence of vocal response or reaction.
70. Make a Little Go a Long Way for One’s Ears
Making “a little go a long way for one’s ears” is an adaptation of the more general phrase, “make a little go a long way,” customized to fit our context. It means to extract as much value as possible from a limited amount of information heard. This could involve careful listening and thoughtful consideration that allows someone to understand and utilize the knowledge to a greater extent than expected.
Health and Body Expressions
An “earworm” is a catchy tune or melody that involuntarily continues to replay in someone’s mind after it has been heard. It’s like the tune ‘worms’ its way into your brain, and no matter how much you’d like to get rid of it, it’s stubbornly nestled in your memory.
72. Make One’s Ears Burn
If something “makes your ears burn,” it typically suggests that you are embarrassed or blushing due to something said about you, especially if you’re overhearing something you weren’t meant to hear.
This phrase is not related to physical temperature but instead metaphorically speaks to the heat one might feel on one’s face (associated with the ears) when subjected to embarrassment or the center of attention.
73. My Ears Are Popping
This common expression is used when someone experiences a change in air pressure, causing a popping sensation in the ears, such as during takeoff in an airplane or traveling at high elevations. It’s a physiological response, but mentioning it often implies the discomfort or novelty of the experience.
This idiom describes being subjected to a lengthy and forceful scolding or lecture. The phrase evokes the idea of the ears being figuratively assaulted by the intensity and volume of the talking.
75. To Have One’s Ears Syringed
The idiom is often used metaphorically to suggest that someone isn’t hearing things properly or is in need of paying better attention. Syringing involves using a device to flush out the ear canal, and in a metaphorical sense, the process represents the removal of misunderstandings or misconceptions that might be impairing a person’s figurative ‘hearing‘.
It’s an invitation to fresh comprehension or a new perspective that makes one listen more effectively, allowing them to ‘hear‘ what is actually being said in a conversation or point of contention.
76. Wet Your Whistle
While this phrase doesn’t directly involve the ears, “wet your whistle” is a colloquial saying that means to take a drink, usually an alcoholic beverage. Historically, a whistle could refer to the mouth or throat, and so having a drink would “wet” it, allowing the conversation to continue smoothly – which is important in social listening environments.
77. It’s Enough to Make One’s Hair Curl
This idiom is used to describe hearing something shocking or outrageous. The saying relies on the hyperbolic concept that one’s hair could respond to intense emotions or sensations triggered by surprising information by curling up, linking auditory shock to a physical reaction.
78. Hear It on the Grapevine
This phrase is used when someone learns a piece of information informally or through rumor rather than direct communication. While it doesn’t directly mention ears, it involves the act of listening and is suggestive of the way information travels in hushed tones, as if whispered from person to person like the tendrils of a vine.
79. Hear Straight From the Horse’s Mouth
To “hear it straight from the horse’s mouth” means to hear information from the most authoritative or reliable source. It implies that the information has not been distorted by secondary interpretations, ensuring one’s understanding is as accurate as possible.
80. Hear a Pin Drop
To say you could “hear a pin drop” describes a situation of such complete silence that the quietest of noises would be noticeable. It suggests a high level of attention or a heightened awareness of sound in the environment, often in the context of an audience waiting in anticipation or listening intently.
81. It’s All in the Ear of the Beholder
Similar to “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” this phrase suggests that musical appreciation is subjective and depends on the listener’s personal taste. It recognizes that each individual’s ears (metaphorically speaking) may perceive musical sounds or styles differently, and therefore, what is sonorous or harmonious to one person might not be so to another.
82. Have an Ear for Music
Someone who “has an ear for music” has a natural ability to discern melodies, pitch, rhythm, and harmony. Their “ear” – a synecdoche for their musical perception – is attuned to intricate musical components, indicating an innate or developed talent for understanding and appreciating music.
The term describes an individual who has difficulty recognizing different notes or pitch in music. The idiom implies that the ear, as the organ responsible for hearing, is unable to distinguish between the nuances of musical tones, resulting in an inability to perceive melody or harmony correctly.
84. Fall on Tone-Deaf Ears
When something is said to “fall on tone-deaf ears,” it suggests that the message or music fails to resonate with the listener due to a lack of appreciation or understanding, much like someone who is unable to distinguish between musical pitches. The idiom conveys indifference or an inability to properly engage with the nuances of sound, whether in a literal musical context or in a communication scenario.
85. As Clean as a Whistle
This idiom, “as clean as a whistle,” describes something that is extremely clear or pure. Though it isn’t about ears or music directly, it often refers to a sound that is sharp and distinct, which could be related to a musical note or tone that is heard without any interference or distortion.
86. Soothe the Troubled Ear
Adapted from the classic “soothe the savage beast,” this version, “soothe the troubled ear,” implies that music has the power to calm and bring comfort to someone who is distressed or agitated. It underscores the healing or pacifying effect of music on a listener’s emotional state, as experienced through auditory perception.
87. On a Different Wavelength
Being “on a different wavelength” doesn’t refer to ears directly but describes a situation where two or more people are not in agreement or understanding, much like radio signals operating at different frequencies. In terms of musical expression, it can also mean that individuals are not in sync or harmony with each other’s musical tastes or styles.
88. It Doesn’t Ring Any Bells
If something “doesn’t ring any bells,” it means it does not evoke any recognition or recollection; the person does not remember hearing it before. The idiom uses the metaphor of a bell, a sound associated with alertness and memory triggers, to express a lack of auditory recognition.
89. Sing for One’s Supper
This means to perform some sort of work or entertainment in exchange for food or other necessities. This phrase originated from the idea that musicians or entertainers, in historical times, might literally have to perform to receive a meal.
It illustrates the connection between music and the sustenance it provides, not just in a literal sense but also metaphorically—for instance, when speaking of an artist trying to earn a living through music.
90. Sounds Like a Broken Record
This phrase relates to repetitive speech or music, likening it to a scratched vinyl record that skips back to the same spot and repeats the same sound over and over. While it often carries a critical tone, indicating annoyance at the repetition, it nonetheless involves the auditory experience of listening to something that has become tediously predictable.
Criticism and Praise
91. Ringing Endorsement
A “ringing endorsement” is a phrase used to describe a highly enthusiastic and supportive recommendation. It is as if the endorsement rings in the listener’s ears, grabbing their attention with its clarity and resonance. The term ‘ringing‘ emphasizes the strong, clear, and unmistakable support represented by this praise.
92. Not Have a Good Word to Say About
When someone does “not have a good word to say about” another person or thing, it means that their opinion or feedback is entirely negative or critical. The phrase suggests that any commentary that reaches the ears will be disparaging, without any praise or positive remarks. It reflects a state of complete dissatisfaction or disapproval that is vocalized in the person’s comments.
93. Receive With Open Ears
This means listening to criticism or praise without prejudice and with the willingness to understand or accept what is being said. The idiom paints a picture of the listener having an open-minded approach, akin to holding one’s ears open, ready to capture and consider every word.
This active engagement with feedback implies a preparedness to let the words impact one’s thoughts and perhaps even influence change in behavior or outlook. It’s a critical approach in both receiving accolades and handling criticism, suggesting that the listener’s “ears” are not just passively letting the sound waves flow in but are actively engaging with the message.
94. Words That Fall on Fertile Ears
This idiom is used to describe commentary, whether critical or laudatory, that is received by an individual who is receptive and likely to be influenced or take action as a result. Like seeds sown on fertile soil, which are more likely to take root and grow, words that reach “fertile ears” are poised to make a significant impact.
This idiom emphasizes the positive side of openness to criticism and praise, suggesting a readiness to grow and improve. The “ears” in this context symbolize the mental and emotional receptiveness of an individual, relating not just to the physical act of hearing but also to the deeper act of listening with the intent to understand and evolve from the feedback provided.
95. Echoes in One’s Ears
When something “echoes in one’s ears,” it means that the words spoken, whether they are of criticism or praise, linger in the mind of the listener long after they have been said. The phrase suggests that the impact of these words is profound and resonant, much like an echo that continues to reverberate in a space.
The idiom uses the auditory phenomenon of an echo to illustrate how certain comments or feedback can have a lasting effect, encouraging reflection or introspection. This could refer to a piece of advice that continually influences one’s decisions or a compliment that boosts one’s confidence over time.
96. To Fall on Discerning Ears
When criticism or praise “falls on discerning ears,” it is received by someone capable of making fine judgments and who appreciates the nuances in the feedback they are hearing. This phrase indicates that the listener is not only hearing the words but also critically evaluating and interpreting their significance.
Those with “discerning ears” are thought to sift through the noise, extracting valuable insights from what might otherwise be a cacophony of opinions. Much like an experienced music critic can hear the subtleties in a complex piece of music, a person with discerning ears can detect the underlying intentions, truth, and value in a stream of criticism or flow of compliments.
97. To Prick Up One’s Ears At
This means showing increased interest and attention when hearing praise or criticism; it signals heightened alertness, similar to how certain animals, like dogs, will lift their ears when they are more attentive. This idiom draws upon the instinctive reaction as a metaphor for human behavior when we encounter stimulating feedback, be it positive or negative.
The act of pricking up one’s ears suggests an eagerness to engage with what is being said and to dissect the commentary in a way that may lead to personal or professional growth. It underlines the idea that the way we listen can significantly influence the level of impact that words of praise or criticism have on us.
98. To Be All Ears to Someone’s Tune
When someone is said “to be all ears to someone’s tune,” it means they are very attentive and receptive to that person’s opinions or judgments, metaphorically tuning their ears specifically to what that individual has to say, whether it be criticism or praise.
The idiom employs a musical metaphor, with the person’s ‘tune‘ representing their unique perspective or the particular message they convey. Just as one might carefully listen to a melody or harmony, adjusting one’s ears to the nuances of the music, so too does the listener aim to capture every note of the speaker’s verbal melody.
99. To Have One’s Ears Singed
This conveys experiencing harsh criticism that feels as if it has metaphorically burned, much like the sensitive tips of the ears being singed by fire. It paints a vivid picture of the intensity of the critique received and suggests that the words are so severe that they leave a lasting impression, echoing the discomfort of a mild burn.
This expression reflects the impact that sharp or biting criticism can have on an individual, not necessarily causing lasting harm but nonetheless being powerful enough to emotionally ‘sting’ and resonate deeply.
100. To Hear on the Quiet
This idiom captures the discreet nature of such exchanges, where the listener’s ears pick up on hints or whispers of feedback that are not broadcast loudly for all to hear. It often pertains to confidential or sensitive information, implying that it is passed along through hushed tones and low-key remarks by those privy to the speaker’s true sentiments.
By focusing on the quiet transmission of words, the phrase emphasizes a more personal and potentially impactful form of communication. It reveals how, sometimes, what we hear in silence or through quiet acknowledgment can be just as influential, if not more so, than what is openly declared.
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