Prick up your ears


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Prick up your ears'?

To begin listening attentively.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Prick up your ears'?

This derives from the ability of dogs, horses etc. to lift their ears to hear more clearly. The allusion was known by 1626, when Francis Bacon used it in his Essays – On Fame. The allusion to erectness in this phrase, and the similar ‘cock an ear’ are the source of the slang terms ‘prick’ and ‘cock’ for penis.

Prick Up Your Ears was also the title of a film and stage play based on the life of the English playwright Joe Orton, but had an entirely different meaning there, as befitted Orton’s scandalous reputation.

Trend of prick up your ears in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.