With this small story, Diana shocked the entire room. She always kept her past hidden away. Only a select few truly knew who she really was, and most of them were dead. Even Christian was hearing this for the first time.

The rest of the day was predominantly uneventful. Diana helped Christian to get back on his feet, taking a few tentative steps. She had to make sure that he could at least walk slightly before they left. Charlie and Jack kept an ear out on the street, to warn Diana if anything seemed out of sorts. Vicki was left to assist either pair if needed.

Dinner was a particularly trying time. Everyone had been almost silent since Diana's explosion during the day. Diana was still too aggravated to eat much. She wanted to put everything that had happened behind her as soon as possible.

Does it mean "to listen carefully about the things that are going on on the street. (any confidential information, anything that might do harm, etc.)?

  • 3
    It's a figurative expression meaning to listen to "what is going on" — by talking to people, gathering information, etc. It doesn't mean listening to street noise. "The street" in this case simply means the public at large.
    – Robusto
    May 4, 2012 at 1:59

2 Answers 2


There are two parts to this expression:

1) to keep an ear out - This is a figure of speech that means to actively gather information on a particular subject. In the context of this story, the subject concerned (I think) is their escape from somewhere? Correct me if I am wrong as I only quickly browsed through the story on the Net.

2) on the street - Again this is a figure of speech. This does not mean physically on the street but just in public in general.


A post on Word Reference written in lovely colloquial terms explains the origins of the idiom.

"Keep an ear out" is an odd expression, but it's firmly fixed in [American English] idiom. It goes back to the West, possibly to the Colonial times, when the woods and mountains could be dangerous to travel in. It got awful cold in winter, but there were times you couldn't bundle up the way you might've done in the old country, where you didn't have to listen to Indians and bear.
Rather than scarf up or pull your hat down, or get all the way snug in your bedroll – you had to keep an ear out.

(... to listen intently for any sounds signaling danger.)

In due course, the idiom "to keep an ear out" came to mean "to stay alert to developments around you (for potential dangers or, later, opportunities)".

  • 2
    I don't believe this story for a moment - it has all the hallmarks of etymythology. I find "keep an ear out" a rather unfamiliar, but perfectly comprehensible, coining on the model of "keep an eye out", which is very familiar to me.
    – Colin Fine
    May 4, 2012 at 17:51
  • 1
    And Google ngrams shows "keep an eye out" much more prevalent than "keep an ear out", starting to appear from 1850, while "keep an ear out" is negligible until 1980. Which pretty well torpedoes that fanciful story.
    – Colin Fine
    May 4, 2012 at 17:55
  • @Colin Fine. Shows you didn't visit the link (Word Reference). It's nice, you should.
    – Kris
    May 4, 2012 at 18:00
  • You're right, I hadn't visited the link. Now that I have, I find that the story is asserted with no evidence whatever, and the writer "suspect[s] that" it is the origin. In any case, don't you think there might have been woods, mountains or bandits in "the old country"? It's a piece of imaginative fiction.
    – Colin Fine
    May 4, 2012 at 22:32

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