What does the idiom "feel one's ears burning" mean?

Are you using the idiom feel one's ears burning but not sure about its meaning? Using idioms, which are important elements of spoken and written language, in the right place strengthens your language skills. Examine the meaning of the feel one's ears burning idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "feel one's ears burning"


The idiom ‘feel one’s ears burning’ is used to describe a feeling of unease or embarrassment, typically when people are discussing a person behind their back or perhaps even gossiping about them directly. It is implied that the person has some sense of the conversation although they aren't actually present, as if their ears were actually burning.


This particular idiom has been in use for centuries, although the earliest known reference to it appears in John Ray’s A Collection of English Proverbs published in 1678. Ray wrote: “A man may as soon grow a beard in a day as his ears to burn in a night.” It is believed that the phrase was derived from superstition that one could actually experience a physical sensation when someone was discussing them.


The idiom is used to suggest a feeling of embarrassment or unease when someone is the subject of conversation in their absence. It is not intended to be taken literally, and is just a way of expressing the feeling of unease when someone knows they are the topic of conversation.

Example Sentences

  • I could almost feel my ears burning when I heard my co-workers talking about me in the break room.
  • My ears were burning when my friend told me that people had been talking about me at the party.
  • I'm sure my ears were burning when my ex-boyfriend said he was still angry with me.

The meanings of the words in the "feel one's ears burning" idiom

From One Language to Another: Idioms in Translation

Translating idioms from one language to another can be a tricky task, as the cultural context behind an idiom can be difficult to capture. For example, the French phrase "avoir le cafard" translates to "to have the cockroach," which means to feel down or depressed. Similarly, the Chinese idiom "????" (j?ng d? zh? w?) translates to "frog at the bottom of a well," which refers to someone with a narrow view of the world.


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