Monday, July 30, 2007

Eavesdrop



Q. Where did the word eavesdrop come from? [Lannie, Old Mission Peninsula]

A. It’s an Old English word going back to at least the 9th century. The eaves of a house is the projecting overhang at the lower edge of a roof. Water drips from it when it rains.

An Old English law mandated that the owner of a building must leave at least two feet from the boundary of his property open to the sky. This was so water dripping from the roof line did not erode the neighbor’s land or damage his buildings. The Romans had similar laws on their books, called iura stillicidiorum, or laws of the falling drops. [Chambers-Murray, Latin-English Dictionary] I’m not making this up.

By extension, the eavesdrip was the space between the dripping water line and the wall of the house. An eavesdropper would be someone who crept close to a door or window to listen in on a conversation. “Evesdroppers are such as stand under wals or windowes..to heare news.” [Termes de la Ley, 1641] The very eaves have ears.

SIDEBAR: Eavesdrop Radio

SIDEBAR: Eavesdrop, New York based performance and arts in education collective

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