How did the phrase "hear you out" or "hear me out" come about?

The phrase means "listen to whatever I have to say before you pass judgment on me," or "tell me whatever you want; I don't mind and won't pass judgment on you."

First, why is it "hear" and not "listen"?

Second, how is the "out" used in this context, and what is the purpose of the "out"?

Third, how old is this phrase?

  • "Hear" and "listen" both would work here, but "hear" is transitive so you can say "hear me". Consider: "Listen, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere". – Peter Shor Jan 31 '14 at 23:02

Hear me out, according to one source (I am dubious) is from the first half of 1600s. Out means until the end. Hear as opposed to *listen" is choice; many people say, Listen to me.

Perhaps the origin is referring to the use of Hear ye, the call (along with a bell, gong, or drum) of the town criers, who were the means of communication with the people of a town, since many people could not read or write. Proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier.

In England, Chester records of 1540 show fees due to the bellman (town crier) so it's likely they were common before then.

  • The first citation the OED has for hear out is: "1637 J. Shirley Gamester iii, in I. Reed Dodsley's Sel. Coll. Old Plays (1780) IX. 63 It will be inconvenient to hear out your curranto." So your source is probably accurate. – Peter Shor Jan 31 '14 at 23:12
  • @PeterShor - wow! Is that the paid subscription? I found so little! – anongoodnurse Jan 31 '14 at 23:18
  • It is. (I can get it without paying anything because I work for a university.) – Peter Shor Jan 31 '14 at 23:26
  • @Peter: You should also be able to access a copy of 'Multi-word verbs in early modern English' (books.google.com/books?isbn=9042004495) by Claudia Claridge, then. I had to order one from Leeds Uni via our library several years ago. I don't remember 'hear sb out' though. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 1 '14 at 0:00

"To hear out is a phrasal or prepositional verb that means listen to the end of the story. It was in use in the 17th century, but I am guessing that it is older than that and is part of the Germanic origins (perhaps related to anhören, meaning listen) found in modern English. There are some examples from an on-line source [here]. 1

  • I like your source; it's far better than mine! Still, there is little about hear out (Lord Chesterfield notwithstanding.) I couldn't find much. – anongoodnurse Jan 31 '14 at 22:09
  • Thanks. This is the first time I've seen or used finedictionary.com I am liking it. The relationship between 'hear out' and 'anhören' is just a guess. – Michael Owen Sartin Jan 31 '14 at 22:20
  • There's another question on phrasal verbs somewhere here … it appears that most phrasal verbs didn't come from Old English but were coined during Middle English or later. – Peter Shor Jan 31 '14 at 23:04
  • @PeterShor That timing would be consistent with a Germanic origin. – Michael Owen Sartin Jan 31 '14 at 23:13
  • @Michael: I don't think there's any doubt that phrasal verbs themselves are part of the Germanic language heritage … just that most of the particular ones used in Modern English didn't come directly to us from Old English, but arose in a surge of phrasal verb creation during Late Middle English and Early Modern English. This is consistent with the early 17th century as the origin of hear out. – Peter Shor Jan 31 '14 at 23:24

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