just those snippets of conversations that you're not involved in that you overhear and its not even louder than the rest of their conversation it just stands out to you. I feel like that deserves an artsy vaguely pretentious word like on par with "wanderlust" a fancy pretty sounding word like that.

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    selective hearing - auditory attention is directed at things people are most interested in hearing. Nearly everyone hears their own name more easily, for example, but there will be plenty of individual words/phrases that stand out to you personally as "significant" even though they might not be so to others. Feb 19, 2016 at 20:40
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    I can't think of a noun, but perhaps you could say something like "She pricked up her ears when she heard them discussing the burglary."
    – k1eran
    Feb 20, 2016 at 1:24
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    @FumbleFingers, I think your comment deserves to be an answer.
    – DyingIsFun
    Feb 20, 2016 at 2:20
  • Super hearing ability of Superman.
    – NVZ
    Feb 20, 2016 at 4:14
  • John D. MacDonald used a phrase something like "growing hairy points on his ears" Feb 22, 2016 at 23:27

4 Answers 4


I don't know about a single word, but the correct phrase would be "selective hearing".

It's when your auditory system hears all the sounds and noise in the surrounding environment but only certain parts of the information are processed by the brain.

Similar to how when you learn about something and then suddenly see it everywhere (a type of bird for instance) it's because your brain recognizes it and latches onto that. There's so much information in the world - too much for your brain to process all of it - so your brain has to be selective and decide which information for you to notice.

Every time you learn something, it creates a link in your brain. When you learn it a second time, that link is strengthened. These "brain links" make certain phrases or knowledge familiar and determine what stands out to you out of all the information your brain has to process.

Is that what you were asking?

EDIT: Selective hearing is also called 'Selective Auditory Attention', which sounds a bit more pretentious/fancy like you asked for.


Although it's commonly given a nefarious connotation, I think Eavesdrop would apply.

eaves·drop /ˈēvzˌdräp/ verb

secretly listen to a conversation

If you wanted to remove the connotation, you could further clarify it as "unintentional eavesdropping".


"...his ears perked up" or a more colorful Yiddish variant, "... his ear grew fat."

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    – user140086
    Mar 15, 2016 at 12:46

I don't know the actual word, but you could always say the bit of conversation "jumped out at you" or "your ears picked up what they were saying". Not sure if this helps, but I hope it did!

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