AskDefine | Define eavesdropping

Dictionary Definition

eavesdrop v : listen without the speaker's knowledge; "the jealous man was eavesdropping on his wife's conversations" [syn: listen in] [also: eavesdropping, eavesdropped]eavesdropping See eavesdrop

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. present participle of eavesdrop


  1. the action of the verb 'to eavesdrop'
  2. listening secretly to the private conversations of others
  3. (telecoms) the interception of electronic communications


Extensive Definition

Eavesdropping is the act of surreptitiously listening to a private conversation.


Ancient Anglo-Saxon law punished eavesdroppers, who skulked in the eavesdrip of another's home, with a fine; the eavesdrip was also sometimes called the eavesdrop. Eavesdrop also means a small low visibility hole near the entrance to a building (generally under the eaves) which would allow the occupants to listen in on the conversation of people awaiting admission to the house. Typically this would allow the occupant to be prepared for unfriendly visitors.


Eavesdropping can also be done over telephone lines (wiretapping), email, instant messaging, and other methods of communication considered private. (If a message is publicly broadcast, witnessing it does not count as eavesdropping.)
In ancient China, it is said that to prevent eavesdropping when discussing important matters, soldiers would instead draw the characters on hands or papers. This is where the superstition of the "black dot" on a piece of paper comes from.
The Canadian heroine Laura Secord is famous for having eavesdropped on the plans of the American army and delivering this information to the British during the War of 1812.

Eavesdropping in fiction

Eavesdropping is something of a clichéd plot device in fiction, allowing the hero or villain to gain vital information by deliberately or accidentally overhearing a conversation. For instance, in "Letting In the Jungle" by Rudyard Kipling, Mowgli overhears the hunter Buldeo telling some men that Mowgli's adopted mother Messua is about to be executed, so Mowgli sets about rescuing her.
eavesdropping in German: Abhören
eavesdropping in Spanish: Eavesdropping
eavesdropping in French: Écoute clandestine
eavesdropping in Norwegian: Kommunikasjonskontroll
eavesdropping in Portuguese: Eavesdropping
eavesdropping in Finnish: Salakuuntelu
eavesdropping in Swedish: Avlyssning
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