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In several languages, there is a positive idiom or expression which is uttered when someone coincidentally walks in while people were talking about him/her. In some cultures, it is considered to be a good omen for the person in question.


Examples

In Greek, the expression is “πολλά χρόνια θα ζήσεις”, which means “you’re going to live for many years”.

In Spanish, the expression is “hablando del rey de Roma (por la puerta asoma)”, which means “speaking of the king of Rome (he shows up at the door)”.

In Korean, the relevant expression can be found in this list of Korean idioms.


I do not know of an equivalent expression in English which lacks a negative connotation. The only one I know is “speak of the devil (and he shall appear)”, which obviously has a negative connotation.

My research also led to “were your ears ringing?” or “your ears must have been ringing”, which seems to a be a neutral idiom. Apparently, it is related to a folk tale that ringing ears is a sign that someone is talking about you. Also, some websites mention a variation, “Were your ears burning?”. However, I have never heard this in conversation. If this idiom does indeed exist, it seems to be the answer, but I would like to know if either or both variations is widely-understood in the UK/USA.

My research also led me to find a French equivalent to the ear idiom, “avoir les oreilles qui sifflent”, which seems to be quite established. This makes it more likely that the English one would exist.

So, is there a widely-understood positive or neutral expression for when the subject of a conversation suddenly appears?

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    "Speak of the devil" is widely used in friendly banter with no intended ill-will. It's on the tip of my mind that there is an equivalent that I remember from some book, like some regional UK usage, but I can't remember... there are also informal constructions that aren't fixed idioms, like "Well here's the man of the hour!" Jan 4 at 21:17
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    @DjinTonic You have commented what I intended as the answer. I give you precedence. I know it as "Speak of Angels and you will hear the fluttering of their wings". A quick google on "Speak of Angels and you will hear the fluttering" will bring up several references.
    – Anton
    Jan 4 at 21:56
  • @Andy Bonner I know it's used in friendly banter but I'm looking for an expression which can be used with someone the speaker does not know very well without the possibility to offend them.
    – hb20007
    Jan 4 at 21:57
  • I don't believe that "speak of the devil" has any kind of negative association. Just as "oh my god", or "god damn" have no connection to God, for most English speakers, "speak of the devil" has no connection to Satan. I might not use the phrase to refer to someone I don't know, but that's only because it feels overly familiar.
    – Juhasz
    Jan 4 at 22:29
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    In Britain we say, for example "We were talking about you - were your ears burning?", not necessarily when the person being spoken of arrives, but also when reporting the conversation to them later. I've never heard the version 'ears ringing'. Jan 5 at 8:23

2 Answers 2

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Your ears must be burning.

Said of someone who appears during or just after one has been talking about them.
Wow, your ears must be burning because Mom and I were just talking about you and your new job.

Source: The Free Dictionary

This is considered neutral to positive, as it would not be said in some sort of admission of guilt about talking behind someone’s back.

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  • The link you shared to The Free Dictionary does not lead to the definition you quoted.
    – hb20007
    Jan 5 at 8:11
  • @hb20007: It does from where I sit. What are you seeing? Jan 5 at 15:49
  • I disabled an adblocker I had on the specific browser and it worked. It seems it was somehow blocking that content.
    – hb20007
    Jan 5 at 15:56
  • I am accepting this answer because it seems that the "burning" variation of this idiom is the more common one, and seems to be well-known.
    – hb20007
    Jan 5 at 15:57
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While searching I came across

Talk of an angel and you'll hear his wings.

quoteslyfe.com See also WR Forums

I have never heard it, but evidently it's known in English.

The "bird" part of the metaphor appears in the second half of the proverb: "Speak of the Devil and he always appears; speak of the Angels and you can hear the flutter of their wings." Robert Palmatier; Speaking of Animals: A Dictionary of Animal Metaphors (1995)


Talk of an angel and you will hear his wings." Evelyn Blücher; An English Wife in Berlin (1920)

Ah, talk of an angel and you will hear his wings. There he is. Done anything, Armitage? A. W. Medley; My English Diary (1908)

Speak of angels," said the manager, cheerfully, “and you will hear the fluttering of their wings." William Nicolls; Wild Mustard (1914)

There is an English proverb that says: “Talk of angels, and you will hear the flutter of their wings." There is another which runs: "Talk of the devil and you will see his tail." Prentiss Ingraham; Buffalo Bill Among the Soux (2021)

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    I have never heard this used in conversation. Also, the Persian expression seems to mean something a bit different, "talk of good things and they will happen".
    – hb20007
    Jan 4 at 22:02
  • If it does come from the Persian, this version seems to be well-established in English.
    – DjinTonic
    Jan 4 at 22:30
  • I’ve never heard this - it feels old-fashioned. I guess speak of the devil has displaced this one?
    – k1eran
    Jan 5 at 1:56
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    @k1eran I agree. Note the early dates of some examples.
    – DjinTonic
    Jan 5 at 2:09
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    Never heard this in my (American) life. Jan 5 at 3:16

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