In a vain attempt to stay dry, he pressed close to the house, thankful for the wider than usual overhang. Sounds from the street mingled with those from inside the building in a cacophony of noise. Suddenly a brawny hand clamped down on his shoulder.
“‘Ere, now. Spyin’, are ye? I’ll ‘ave the law on ye now!”
Imagine our poor hero’s surprise to find himself on the wrong side of the law just for trying to get out if the rain! But, considering the building methods back when our story takes place, it’s easy to see, or rather, hear, that conversations inside would easily be heard through the thin walls and floors. Accirding to OxfordDictionarires, ‘eavesdrop’ came into the current usage in the 17th century, having originally meant ‘the water dropping from the eaves (overhang) of a building.’
ListVerse gives the following description of the change in meaning:
“Before the invention of guttering roofs were made with wide eaves, overhangs, so that rain water would fall away from the house to stop the walls and foundations being damaged. This area was known as the eavesdrop. The large overhang gave good cover for those who wished to lurk in shadows and listen to others’ conversations. Since the area under the eaves was considered part of the householder’s property you could be fined under Anglo-Saxon law for being under the eaves with the intention of spying.”
So the next time you duck under the eaves, make sure you’re wearing earplugs!