I feel like there's a phrase that people sometimes use in order to indicate that they have been aware of an impending change or event. The phrase draws on the metaphor of a soldier placing his ear to the ground to listen for faraway armies approaching. It's something like, "I have heard the ground tremors."

For instance, my coworker sent me an article about how JSON has almost fully supplanted XML as a data transmission standard. I have been picking up bits and pieces of knowledge on this shift over time, so I wanted to express that I was already aware of it. Thus, I wanted to say e.g., "Yeah, I've been hearing the ground tremors on that one for a while now."

I've googled the phrase and different variations of it so I could make sure I got it correct, but I can't find any evidence of its existence. Am I just making this up?

  • Do you just mean "rumors" and/or "on the grapevine"?
    – TrevorD
    Jun 10, 2016 at 13:39
  • Predicting perhaps? And its synonyms.
    – moonstar
    Jun 10, 2016 at 14:30
  • It's got your spider-sense going...
    – Fattie
    Jun 10, 2016 at 19:56
  • 1
    "There's a change in the air"
    – SAH
    Nov 1, 2016 at 22:07
  • Don't forget augury.
    – Lambie
    Aug 12, 2019 at 22:55

16 Answers 16


The (hand)writing is on the wall


a premonition, portent, or clear indication, especially of failure or disaster: The company had ignored the handwriting on the wall and was plunged into bankruptcy.


Imminent danger has become apparent.


the likelihood that something bad will happen

based on a story in the Bible about Daniel, who reads the handwriting on the wall that predicts the end of the kingdom of Babylon

  • 7
    In the case of the sentence usage per the OP, I would be inclined to modify it to "Yeah, the writing's been on the wall on that one for a while now."
    – vynsane
    Jun 10, 2016 at 14:54
  • 2
    I think you hit the nail on the head! (Boy, I'm feeling metaphor-y today...)
    – rory.ap
    Jun 10, 2016 at 14:58

You often hear people say "There is something in the air".
Sometimes, there has been something in the air.

It is an allusion to a dog sniffing the air, detecting the smell of something far away.


Assuming OP specifically wants an expression relating to hearing ground tremors, the most relevant idiomatic expression I can think of is...

picked up rumblings

That's an estimated 126 written instances, the vast majority of which are OP's figurative sense.

  • 1
    I think this perfectly captures the OP's sense of "picking up bits and pieces of knowledge on this shift", since part of this idiom is the idea that what you are actually hearing is many small noises, which together suggest that something big is happening/heading your way.
    – Gaurav
    Jun 11, 2016 at 1:03
  • Yes, and it works with the OP's question.
    – Lambie
    Aug 12, 2019 at 22:56

You can say you are keeping your ear to the ground meaning you are alert for signs of change, but I think it would be somewhat strained to say "I am aware because I'd been keeping my ear to the ground." Better would be "I'd picked up on that".

Fig. to devote attention to watching or listening for clues as to what is going to happen. John had his ear to the ground, hoping to find out about new ideas in computers. His boss told him to keep his ear to the ground so that he'd be the first to know of a new idea.

keep an ear to the ground. (n.d.) McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. (2002). Retrieved June 10 2016 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/keep+an+ear+to+the+ground

pick up on Informal
1. To take into the mind and understand, typically with speed: is quick to pick up on new computer skills.
2. To notice: picked up on my roommate's bad mood and left him alone.

pick up on. (n.d.) McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. (2002). Retrieved June 10 2016 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/pick+up+on


I think the expression feel in one's bones may suggest the meaning you are referring to:

  • feel something in one's bones and know something in one's bones Fig. to sense something; to have an intuition about something. The train will be late. I feel it in my bones. I failed the test. I know it in my bones.
  • Yeah, I've been feeling that in my bones for a while now."
  • 1
    Thanks, but this implies more of an intuition whereas the phrase I'm looking for (I can feel it in my bones that it really exists!) is one based on facts or evidence.
    – rory.ap
    Jun 10, 2016 at 13:48

"Jungle drums" springs to mind.

"Yeah, I've been hearing the jungle drums on that one for a while now."


"My spidey sense was tingling" would be the pop culture idiom.


(humorous) Intuition, instinct; an intuitive feeling, usually of something being risky or dangerous.

  • 1
    I have fleshed out your answer. You should answer with good references and examples. :)
    – NVZ
    Jun 10, 2016 at 18:50
  • I have never heard this. Only my 6th sense,
    – Lambie
    Aug 12, 2019 at 22:54

Harbinger of things to comeTFD
(portent of things to come; sign of things to come)

a sample of the events that are to occur in the future.

"The first cuts in our budget are a harbinger of things to come."
"Today's visit from the auditors is a portent of things to come."

Facts on the groundTFD

The reality of a given situation, as opposed to speculation or abstract conjecture.

"You can argue about what his intention was, but the facts on the ground are that we found him with the missing money."


In Sweden there's a saying

It will fall in the direction it is leaning.The saying comes from loggers in northern sweden, it originally meant that the trees they where logging would fall in the direction the tree was leaning towards, but in modern use the same philosophy is applyed to predict on how future events will develope and finalise.

  • 1
    Please add some more context. This isn't a familiar phrase in English.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 10, 2016 at 22:10
  • Im sorry for that, i would love some more pointers. The saying comes from logger in northern sweden, it originally meant that the trees they where logging would fall in the direction the tree was towards, but in modern use the same philosophy is applyed to predict on how future events will develope and finalise. Hope this is a better answer, please give me pointers if not Jun 10, 2016 at 22:32
  • I like the idiom, and I worked as a hazard-tree cutter for several years, so it works for me. You can edit your post to include that info.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 10, 2016 at 22:40
  • I like the idea, but this implies an inherent inevitability. Drawing on my example, it certainly was never inevitable that JSON would supplant XML, but that is, nevertheless, how it worked out.
    – rory.ap
    Jun 11, 2016 at 0:34
  • "It will fall in the direction it is leaning" - perhaps not quite an answer to the question, but such a great phrase nonetheless. Jun 11, 2016 at 5:31

Straw in the wind is defined by Chambers (iPhone edition) as:

“A sign of possible future development”

This seems to fit quite well to the poster’s “(be) aware of an impending change or event”. An example of usage given by Dictionary.com is:

“It is difficult to tell whether the new regime will relax censorship, although a recent remark by the minister of culture may be a straw in the wind.”

  • A bellwether is an indicator of things to come, thus you could say some collection of certain events was a bellwether. "PowerShell supporting JSON was the greatest bellwether for me."
    – dblanchard
    Jun 12, 2016 at 4:49

"to see the signs."

In the expression, "signs" is used to express something that is readily apparent, but the meaning of which not everyone picks up on. "Sign" is often used with a metaphysical, religious or fortune-telling connotation, but it's also used in a medical sense (as opposed to a "symptom").

It's surprisingly hard to come up with a web reference with an actual definition for the phrase, although it's easy to find examples:

"Failure to see the signs of early fractures. Design and human faults were later identified." (From https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20130930142256AACCBBo)

"Have you seen the signs of burnout in your office?" (From https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/have-you-seen-signs-burnout-your-office-terry-graham)

"We've seen the signs in the stock market." (From http://nowthatslogistics.com/product-ocean-freight/weve-seen-the-signs-in-the-stock-market-now-its-verified-in-our-west-coast-ports/)

"Do you see the signs?" (From http://amac.us/see-signs/)

"How to see the signs of measles" (From http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/how-to-see-the-signs-of-measles/)

  • That's how I would say it. I've been seeing the signs of it for a while now.
    – dangph
    Jun 12, 2016 at 15:53

coming events cast their shadows before

Clues indicate important events to follow.



Two variations

"Change is in the wind."

"The winds of change are coming."



"...I hear distant thunder..."

Thunder heard but not necessarily a cloud in the sky, portend a coming, sometimes rapid change.

If you hear thunder, but see no storm, take cover anyway. 'Distant Thunder' implies an unseen, approaching storm.

  • Unsupported, no explanation, and whenever there is a storm I hear thunder too. Please expand your answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 15, 2016 at 8:04
  • Thunder heard but not necessarily a cloud in the sky, portend a coming, sometimes rapid change. If you hear thunder, but see no storm, take cover anyway. Distant Thunder implies an unseen, approaching storm.
    – Joe
    Jun 20, 2016 at 13:46
  • So why didn't you add that in your answer?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 20, 2016 at 13:58
  • @Mari-Lou A, First, I'm new here, second, I did. Third, downvoting twice over the same issue seems wrong to me.
    – Joe
    Jun 23, 2016 at 20:45
  • 3rd no user can downvote twice. 4th I can reverse my downvote though, and I am happy to do so. Please stick around, and appreciate that on EL&U we're looking for supported answers that are explained. One word solutions often lack credibility. Your brief initial contribution left me puzzled, I asked for clarification. You've now "improved" your answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 23, 2016 at 20:50

Minor signals indicating some future event, if is negative (which pretty much any change in information technology is, to the cynical), are omens:

Various omens have told me that this was coming.

A related word is the adjective ominous, which is an adjective for something which has the attributes of an omen: indicating the coming of a negative event.

There are numerous ways of expressing anticipation of something negative, such as "the writing is on the wall".

An interesting one is the phrase "waiting for the other shoe to drop" which has at least tow meanings, one of which has to do with the anticipation of something negative based on some predicting event. However, this would be more appropriate with a single predicting event, rather than numerous minor evens.


a sneaking suspicion...’

You can say, ‘yes, I had a sneaking suspicion that that was going to happen!’

It means something like... the ‘suspicion’ or sense of expectation had been growing in you, secretly, over time, that it had crept up on you unknowingly, and suddenly engulfed you, so that you suddenly knew... that the thing was going to happen.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.