The Word – Eavesdropper

Richard H. Ryder, 2017

An eavesdropper is a listener, someone who secretly listens to what is said in private.  Not a word peculiar to Freemasonry, it once referred to someone who literally stood under the drip from the eaves.

During the Middle Ages, when communities were small, English courts used several methods to maintain order and promote local harmony, including punishment for eavesdropping.

According to TheWeek.com, Anglo-Saxon laws prevented building “too close to the border of your land, lest the rain running off your roof [the eaves drip] mess up your neighbor’s property. ‘Eavesdropper’ became the word for a person who stands within range of the eavesdrop – too close – in order to listen in on what was going on in the house.”

The Week.com goes on to say: “The problem with eavesdropping wasn’t so much about notion of rights and privacy as about people who ‘perturbed the peace’ by using the information they gained through eavesdropping to sow discord.  Getting the goods on your neighbor might lead to scolding – verbally attacking, berating, stirring things up.  Where eavesdropping might get you fined, the punishment for scolding could be much worse. Repeat scolders might get dunked in the water on the ‘cucking-stool’ until they were thoroughly soaked and humiliated, or made to wear a ‘scold’s bridle,’ an iron muzzle with a spiked gag to keep the tongue from moving”.

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