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On the news this morning, the following was said:

"Eye-witnesses say they heard two explosions"

Somehow this seems wrong, because the witnesses did not use their eyes, but their ears. Yet the phrase "ear-witness" sounds wrong.

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    Evidently, earwitness is a word, although I agree with you, it does sound a bit unfamiliar.
    – J.R.
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 9:56
  • hearsay is not exactly the word. And it comes with negative connotations.
    – Kris
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 10:37
  • On the other hand, it need not be wrong at all. It is customary for the media to interview those at the site of the incident (literally, eye-witnesses alright), who may happen to have heard the explosions.
    – Kris
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 10:43
  • It kinda depends on how you define eyewitness. I go for Simon Jester's answer, but cf. the definition JeffSahol found.
    – zpletan
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 14:00
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    @Kris "hearsay" isn't the "hearing" version of eyewitness. The word means information that you have heard from others rather than personally witnessing, or second-hand information. And despite the "hear" in the word, it doesn't have to be aural. If you read something in the gossip column of a newspaper and then repeated that it court, it would be called "hearsay evidence" even though you read it rather than hearing it.
    – Jay
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 14:04

5 Answers 5

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The OED lists ear-witness as a valid word:

A person who testifies, or is able to testify, to something on the evidence of his own hearing.

The earliest citation is dated 1597 and the word is not listed as obsolete or even archaic, but there are no recent citations, either. Take that as you will...

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I would say there is no equivalent since the word eyewitness ("a person present at an event who can describe what happened") covers the concept already. Otherwise you might also need a word for a touch witness, or a smell witness.

Divorced of its literal meaning, that is. Not every gentleman is gentle, after all.

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    Surely it would be a "nose-witness", and...erm... a "finger-witness"?
    – Urbycoz
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 14:36
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    Ah, you are correct, and thanks for not adding tongue-witness to the list.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 16:25
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Only witness would suffice in case of aural evidence.

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  • It's not "only witness" -- there's a great difference between 'witness' and 'eye-witness', the words are used in different contexts, though 'to witness' merely means 'to see'.
    – Kris
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 12:01
  • witness also means "to testify"
    – horatio
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 13:47
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Simon got it right.

It's not only a valid English word; it's the title of Elias Canetti's wonderful book Earwitness, which gives 50 character sketches, all of which are ... well, odd, not to say insane; but all of them are also people you recognize as yourself, or someone you know ... sometimes.

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As noted in other answers, earwitness is a highly suitable word. However, in the context of

X say they heard two explosions

I'd expect to find the plural of witness ("One who has a personal knowledge of something") rather than earwitness more commonly in place of X. The word listener ("Someone who listens") also works. Auditor apparently doesn't work in English, although in Latin one of its meanings is "A hearer".

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