Shhh! The Walls Have Ears!

2017-09-03

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[00:07.64]
  • Now it’s time for Words and Their Stories, a program from VOA Learning English.
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  • On this program, we explore common words and expressions in American English.
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  • Sometimes we tell you their origins, but we always teach you how to use the words in conversation.
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  • Today, we are going to talk about something bad; in other words, something naughty.
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  • Have you ever listened to a private conversation?
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  • Maybe you were standing by a door or in a hallway and you heard people talking about someone else you know.
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  • And you could not help it. You paused … you perked up your ears … and you listened.
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  • You knew, of course, that these people were not speaking to you.
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  • They did not invite you to be part of their conversation. You invited yourself.
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  • You eavesdropped.
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  • To eavesdrop means you secretly listen to the conversations of others.
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  • Some types of people are very good at eavesdropping.
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  • Nosy people, people who like to gossip and spies are all good eavesdroppers.
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  • The only difference among my examples is that spies get paid and could get killed for getting an earful.
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  • Originally, however, the word “eavesdrop” had nothing to do with spying or listening to private conversations.
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  • When it was first used in the 1600s, “eavesdrop” was the water that fell, or dropped, from the eaves of a house.
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  • Eaves are the parts of the roof that hang over the walls and shade the outside of a house.
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  • After more time passed, “eavesdrop” came to mean the ground near the house where the water fell.
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  • After even more time passed, “eavesdropper” described someone who stood near a house to secretly listen to a conversation happening inside.
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  • These days you can be standing anywhere to eavesdrop.
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  • The word simply means "to listen secretly to something said in private."
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  • English has another expression related to eavesdropping and the home:
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  • the walls have ears.
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  • This means be careful what you say as there might be people listening.
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  • Some word experts say this expression may come from story about an ancient Greek ruler (430–367 BC) who had an ear-shaped cave cut and connected between the rooms of his palace.
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  • This allowed him to listen to conversations in other rooms.
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  • This form of eavesdropping became common practice with rulers from many cultures.
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  • In English, the phrase "the walls have ears" was first recorded in its present form in the mid-1600s.
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  • Now, if you like (or hate) learning English phrasal verbs, there’s a great one for eavesdropping – to listen in on.
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  • Usually our phrasal verbs have only one preposition.
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  • Not this one. It has two!
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  • When you listen in on something, you listen to people speaking without joining in, usually secretly.
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  • But not always.
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  • You can listen in on a class at university or listen in on a meeting at work.
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  • These examples do not suggest that you were listening secretly.
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  • But if you are listening in on a private conversation, chances are you are listening to something private that does not concern you.
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  • You are not minding your own business.
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  • Now, maybe you were minding your own business.
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  • Maybe you just happened to have overheard a private conversation.
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  • Overhearing is more innocent than eavesdropping.
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  • You can overhear something by being in the wrong place at the right time.
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  • Now, let’s listen in on two people talking to learn how to use these words and expressions in a conversation.
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  • And it’s okay.
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  • We're not eavesdropping.
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  • I've given you permission!
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  • So, Amy, I was listening in on the management meeting today.
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  • Our manager said that he’s putting your project on hold.
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  • You’re thinking about leaving the company, aren’t you?
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  • I haven’t told anyone that except Ann Marie.
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  • Did she spill the beans to you?!
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  • No. She didn’t tell me anything.
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  • I just happened to overhear you two talking in the cafeteria yesterday.
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  • Were you eavesdropping on our conversation, Alex?!
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  • No! I was walking behind your table and accidentally overheard what you guys were talking about. Honest.
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  • Alex, it was a really long conversation.
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  • Unless you were purposefully listening in on us I don’t see how it could have been an accident.
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  • Okay, I was standing behind your table.
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  • When I overheard you and Ann Marie talking about your project my ears perked up.
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  • So, I stayed there and listened for a little while … okay, for a long while.
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  • Alex, you’re such a snoop! Look, don’t tell anyone.
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  • I didn’t accept the other job offer yet. So no one knows, okay?
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  • No one except Ann Marie … and me and …
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  • Urgh! Alex!
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  • And that brings us to the end of this Words and Their Stories.
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  • I'd like to know how you talk about listening to private conversations in your language?
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  • Let's talk in the Comments Section ... where the whole world is able to eavesdrop!
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  • I’m Anna Matteo.
  • 如您有建议或意见点击这里给我们留言