Eavesdrop is a compound word. A compound word is a word derived from two separate words used together. New compound words usually consist of two, separate words, and are called open compound words. Midway through their evolution, compound words may acquire hyphens between the two words. When a compound becomes a closed compound word, which consists of two words joined without any hyphen or space, it has usually been in use for a long time. The advent of the internet has sped up the process of becoming a closed compound word. We will examine the meaning of the word eavesdrop, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To eavesdrop means to listen in on someone else’s conversation surreptitiously, to listen to other people’s conversation secretly, to conceal oneself in order to hear what other people are saying without detection. Words that are synonyms of the word eavesdrop that may be found in a thesaurus are snoop, monitor and overhear. The word eavesdrop has been in use since the turn of the seventeenth century, and is a back-formation from the word eavesdropper. An eavesdropper was someone who stood in the eavesdrop, or area outside of a building where the water dripped off of the eaves and onto the ground. In this case eavesdropper was a sort of idiom, as the implication is that the person standing in the eavesdrop was listening to overhear private conversations through windows or doors, also known as snooping. Eavesdropper was in use for at least one hundred years before the word eavesdrop to mean the act of secretly listening to others’ conversations came into use. In time, the word eavesdropper came into its current meaning, its idiomatic meaning becoming its official definition. Eavesdrop may be used as a noun or a verb, related words are eavesdrops, eavesdropped, eavesdropping. Eavesdropping is no longer limited to describing listening to conversations that may be overheard by standing outside a door or window. Telephones may be tapped, emails may be hijacked, and electronic surveillance through virtual assistants is possible. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act restricts ways in which an employer or government may access, wiretap, or intercept electronic information. Transmitting electronic communication that is encrypted helps to thwart electronic eavesdroppers. Certain electronic eavesdropping occurs to support national security, though the debate of whether this is unconstitutional rages. Covert listening or eavesdropping by an intelligence agency is spying or espionage.


For a study titled “Hard Drive of Hearing: Disks that Eavesdrop with a Synthesized Microphone,” computer scientists Andrew Kwong, Wenyuan Xu, and Kevin Fu describe an acoustic side-channel that can be accessed by measuring how sound waves make hard disk parts vibrate. (The Register)

At first, the Arlington software developer messed around a bit, trying the same process repeatedly and always getting the same results — he could eavesdrop on someone’s conversation without their knowledge. (The Fresno Bee)

Cunningham’s AB 1395, known as the Future of Eavesdropping Act, would prohibit smart speaker devices and manufacturers of them from storing and data mining voice recordings made with smart speakers, regardless of whether the device was triggered using a key term or phrase. (The Cal Coast News)

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