To put a flea in someone’s ear and put a bug in someone’s ear are two idioms with very different meanings. To put a flea in someone’s ear is a British phrase, and to put a bug in someone’s ear is an American phrase. We will look at the difference in meaning between these two idioms, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.
To put a flea in someone’s ear means to reprimand him, to send him away with a strong rebuke. This British idiom is derived from a fourteenth century French term, which meant filling someone with sexual desire. When first used in English, the term put a flea in someone’s ear was used to mean a feeling of spiritual emotion. The idiom evolved into the current meaning of a strong reprimand.
To put a bug in someone’s ear means to give him a suggestion or a hint, to impart some information that will help decide a course of action. Put a bug in someone’s ear is an American term, which finds its origins in the same fourteenth century French term.
I guarantee your dean will send you away with a flea in your ear and you will get a reputation for being stuck-up, humourless and insufferable. (The Financial Times)
Years ago, if you were caught clowning around, you’d get a sound ticking off from the matron or senior doctor and you’d resume your duties with a flea in your ear. (The Telegraph)
If you are doing it because it’s the latest trend, or someone put the culture bug in your ear, then I’d suggest that you stop and reevaluate your motive. (The Huffington Post)
If your web designer isn’t using it, then this is the first bug in your ear to consider a new service. (Rental Management Magazine)