We all have done this. It’s okay to admit it. Eavesdropping, or calling someone an eavesdropper, is a listening factor we can’t ignore. But, where did the word eavesdropping (or eavesdropper) come from? Why is it called eavesdropping?

When we break down the word, an eave is a roof lower border that overhangs a wall and a projecting hill, according to Merriam-Webster. It’s origin is Middle English, used in the 12th century. However, the word is derive from High German, obasa. On the other hand, dropper is a more recent term, dating back to the 1700’s and has a medicinal meaning. So, how did this term come about?

In the Saxon times in England, owners of estates could not build their homes or cultivate their land next to a property line. They had to leave a space for the drips of the eaves. The term, eavesdripper (or eavesdrip) came to mean the space between property lines. Now, an eavesdropper came to mean a person who stood in the space between the property lines of the eavesdrip to overhear what was being said in the next property.

In modern times, we use this term when we are overhearing a conversation, excluding the property lines.