To keep an ear to the ground means to stay informed and attentive concerning an event or situation. For example, rumor has it my school is getting a new administrator, so I will keep my ear to the ground for any new information about who that might be.
This idiom has been in use since the 18th century and is a figurative way to express your alertness to trends and rumors. Idioms are figurative uses of words that are different from their literal definitions. Learning how to use them can help you improve your English.
This article explores the definition and origins of the idiom keep an ear to the ground and provides multiple examples to help you understand its meaning.
Keep an Ear to the Ground Meaning
The idiom keep an ear to the ground means to pay attention to circumstances that are approaching or to be aware of what is going on around you, particularly current events, trends, or gossip.
Someone who keeps an ear to the ground is in the know and is generally well-informed.
Keep an Ear to the Ground Synonyms
- Stay tuned
- Stay informed
- Be attentive
- Stay aware
- Stay in the loop
- Remain vigilant
- Keep your eyes and ears open
- Stay on top of things
Keep an Ear to the Ground Used in Sentences
- As a journalist, keeping an ear to the ground to stay ahead of breaking news stories is essential.
- The detective advised his team to keep an ear to the ground for any potential leads in the ongoing investigation.
- The marketing team constantly keeps an ear to the ground to understand customer feedback and improve their products.
- The CEO encouraged their employees to keep an ear to the ground and share any valuable insights or ideas for company growth.
Keep an Ear to the Ground Origins
The idiom keep an ear to the ground originates from the practice, particularly in the American West, of putting one’s ear to the ground to listen for the rumble of hooves. Vibrations from galloping horses or buffalo traveled long distances in the wide, uninhabited spaces of the American West.
American Indians are credited with teaching this skill to cowboys. However, it was probably a well-known skill in many cultures, including Arabic and Spanish. Keep an ear to the ground was first used in an idiomatic sense in American English in the late 1800s, one of many expressions, words, and phrases that probably started as a dialect term.
Over time, the phrase might have disappeared with technological advancements if it weren’t for motion pictures. It is generally assumed that the rise of the Western genre in the 20th century helped keep the practice of keeping an ear to the ground alive through its portrayals of Native Americans practicing the motion.
It became a popular way to use the expression figuratively around the same time to mean staying aware or informed.
The expression was first documented in newspapers in 1773 and 1774 within an article concerning trade passages in the Red Sea. The Pennsylvania Gazette in January 1774 states:
Notice is given when a Ship arrives, by firing a Gun at the rising of the Sun, and two at its setting, which the Pilots, by laying their Ears to the Ground, declare they can hear at a very great Distance, and in consequence put off in Canoes, and pilot the Ship safely through the Rocks and Shallows into the Red-Sea.
Keep an ear to the ground is used to emphasize the importance of staying informed, aware, and attentive.
Like many idioms, this idiomatic expression has its roots in the literal meaning of the phrase. The phrase keep an ear to the ground comes from the practice of putting one’s ear to the ground to listen for changes in sound during various forms of travel.
The phrase became more popular with the rise of the Hollywood Western genre due to its cliche use of Native American and cowboy portrayals.