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Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg earwig on Wikipedia.Wikipedia


From Middle English erwigge, from Old English ēarwicga.


  • IPA(key): /ˈɪə(ɹ)wɪɡ/
  • (file)


earwig (plural earwigs)

  1. Any of various insects of the order Dermaptera that have elongated bodies, large membranous wings folded underneath short leathery forewings and a pair of large pincers protruding from the rear of the abdomen.
    • 2001, Jan Harold Brunvand, Encyclopedia of Urban Legends[1], page 128:
      The idea was probably strengthened by the earwig′s appearance, with a sharp, pincer-like appendage extending to the rear. However, earwigs are herbivores, and they are no more likely to enter an ear than are ants, bees, flies, or any other small insect. Even when earwigs do occasionally find their way into human ears, they cannot burrow their way through the skin and into the brain.
    • 2002, Maurice Burton, Robert Burton, Nuthatch, entry in International Wildlife Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition, page 1762,
      Nuthatches search the crevices of bark at other times during the year for insects, including beetles, earwigs, flies and bugs, and they open galls (swellings in plants) to extract grubs.
    • 2008, John L. Capinera (editor), European Earwig, Forficula auricularia, Linnaeus (Dermaptera: Forficulidae), entry in Encyclopedia of Entomology, page 1370,
      Adults can use the cerci in defense, twisting the abdomen forward over the head or sideways to engage an enemy, often another earwig. Earwigs are nocturnal, spending the day hidden under leaf debris, in cracks and crevices, and in other dark locations.
  2. One who whispers insinuations; a secret counsellor.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Johnson to this entry?)
  3. A flatterer.


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earwig (third-person singular simple present earwigs, present participle earwigging, simple past and past participle earwigged)

  1. (transitive) To fill the mind of with prejudice by insinuations.
  2. (transitive) To attempt to influence by persistent confidential argument or talk.
    • 1831 November, Edward Lancaster, Appearances, The Ladies′ Museum, page 202,
      In the interim, rest assured that Mr. Atherstone is by no means your friend, for he was perpetually earwigging poor Sir Rowland.
    • 1866 February 23, South Australian Parliament, Debates in the Houses of Legislature: September 29 1865—March 16 1866, page 1127,
      The hon. gentleman Mr. Reynolds had expressed his fears that the Government would allow themselves to be earwigged out of the money.
  3. (intransitive, Britain, slang) To eavesdrop.
    • 2007, Russell K. Lewis, In a Moment...: Book One of the Ley of the Land[2], page 381:
      He had heard nothing from Fin, or anyone else, since the angry exchange the other night and was worried about how things were going, but he couldn′t ask about the LeMotts, not with Mum earwigging.
    • 2007, Cat Rambo, Jeff VanderMeer, The Strange Case of the Lovecraft Café, The Surgeon′s Tale and Other Stories, page 89,
      The nameless earwigging writer scrawled in his notebook that “MS and CT also considered that such low life would have a greater pride and satisfaction in life if they could themselves be cooked and served still bleating to rich diners.″
    • 2010, Charlie Cochrane, Lessons in Seduction[3], page 100:
      This man turned up on the last train, wanting a room, and his name had been odd enough to stay in the children′s minds as they earwigged—not something you ever do, Jonty.
  4. (transitive, Britain, slang) To eavesdrop on.
    • 2017 December 1, Leo Lewis, “Eric Cantona on seagulls, fixing Man Utd and why you can't buy passion”, in Financial Times[4]:
      We are meeting at a friendly, higher-end Shanghai brunching spot beloved of expats—cramped and informal enough that one of the three bankers at the next table is cheerfully earwigging our conversation.