What Does it Mean When Your Ears Are Burning?

by Sarah Bronson

"My ears are burning" is an idiom (popular expression) in English that means roughly "I think someone is talking about me behind my back" or "now that I know people have been talking about me, I'm embarrassed."

Definition

To say that your ears are burning is to indicate that others have been talking about you outside of your presence. It means you know, or suspect, that others have been speaking about you.

Usage

The idiom can be constructed many ways, such as "Are your ears burning?" "Your ears must be burning" and "I think my ears are burning."

Connotations

The expression usually connotes a certain level of discomfort with the idea that you are being talked about "behind your back." In this sense it is related to the expression "my ears are burning" which means "I'm embarrassed." The idiom can also be used with a neutral or even humorous tone, especially among friends, as in "You were all talking about me? No wonder my ears were burning!"

Formality

This is an informal expression and should be avoided in formal or academic writing.

Origin

The belief that unusual sounds or feelings in one's ears indicate that she is being talked about goes back at least to the first century. Ancient Romans believed that bodily discomforts were signs of current or upcoming events.

About the Author

Sarah Bronson received her Master of Arts in journalism from New York University in 2002. Since then her clients have included "The New York Times," "Glamour," "Executive Travel," "Fodor's," "The Jerusalem Report," "ESPN—The Magazine," the "Washington Times" and "Figure" magazine. Her areas of expertise include biotechnology, health, education, travel, Judaism and fashion.

Photo Credits

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