Definition of earwig in English:


nounPlural earwigs

  • A small elongated insect with a pair of terminal appendages that resemble pincers.

    Order Dermaptera: several families

    • ‘These stories have little basis in fact, although earwigs have been known to cause a mildly painful bite when sat upon or handled.’
    • ‘The earwigs will hide in these and every morning if you tip out the contents you'll get not alone the hay filling but quite a number of insects as well.’
    • ‘Even earwigs can be useful because they eat aphids, codling moth eggs and the red spider mite.’
    • ‘Rising late in the morning to tents mysteriously full of earwigs we set off for a look.’
    • ‘He published papers illustrating discontinuous variation in floral symmetry and in terminal forceps of earwigs and the hornlike processes seen in certain male beetles.’

verbearwigging, earwigs, earwigged

[no object]British
  • 1Secretly listen to a conversation.

    ‘he looked behind him to see if anyone was earwigging’
    • ‘In the above situation it is quite appropriate to look the other way whilst earwigging and they will pretend you can't hear their conversation.’
    • ‘Like most writers, Dewar is a good listener, earwigging on other's conversations.’
    • ‘He's looking a little distracted, as he's trying to earwig on the Edge's conversation.’
    • ‘Our venue is on Charlotte Street, where the tables are placed close enough for you to earwig on each other's ideas for another makeover series.’
    • ‘Earwigging on the crew, we heard nothing but praise.’
    • ‘Quite often when we chat about not-specifically-work-things, Jim earwigs and contributes.’
    • ‘After the conference speeches are over, I drift around the hotel bars earwigging on conversations.’
    • ‘In one corner was a hefty table of corporate lawyers (no interesting earwigging there); in another sat the insurance posse; over to my left were the corporate finance crew.’
    • ‘Random people preceding me were confronting various BBC folk and questioning them, and I dutifully earwigged.’
    • ‘They went on about benefits, making ends meet and why New Labour is so out of touch with the plight of those on the dole as I nodded surreptitiously into my pint, earwigging all the while.’
    • ‘They finally got her into the office, so I started earwigging outside. ‘Look, if you promise not to come into the store again nicking, we'll let you go.’’
    • ‘A malfunction is being blamed for some callers being able to listen in to other people's calls - and presumably, other people earwigging into their conversations.’
    • ‘I earwigged into a conversation with her last season and she told me what a beautiful horse it was.’
    1. 1.1archaic with object Influence (someone) by secret means.
      ‘he was so sure to be earwigged in private that what he heard or said openly went for little’


Old English ēarwicga, from ēare ‘ear’ + wicga ‘earwig’ (probably related to wiggle); the insect was once thought to crawl into the human ear.