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ear·​wig ˈir-ˌwig How to pronounce earwig (audio)
: any of numerous insects (order Dermaptera) having slender many-jointed antennae and a pair of cerci resembling forceps at the end of the body


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earwigged; earwigging

transitive verb

: to annoy or attempt to influence by private talk

Did you know?

Earwigs are small insects that were once thought to crawl into the ears of sleeping people. This isn't true - earwigs prefer moist, dark places under leaves and rocks to human ears - but the superstition led people to name the insect ēarwicga, Old English for "ear insect." Over time, people connected the idea of having an insect in one's ear to situations that involve whispering or speaking privately into someone's ear. The noun earwig came to also mean "a whispering busybody" (though this sense is now considered archaic), and the verb earwig evolved to refer to the acts of such meddlers. In British English, the word is more commonly used to mean "eavesdrop," as in "earwigged on their conversation at the party."

Examples of earwig in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Heavy snowfall, unseasonably warm temperatures, heavy flooding, and more are examples of severe weather in the U.S. In the Midwest, experts predict a delay in the peak season for earwigs, millipedes, centipedes, and similar insects that tend to thrive during wet summer months. Jenna Prestininzi, Detroit Free Press, 20 Mar. 2024 If the wood wasn’t debarked, trees with loose bark layers or split wood that has dried enough to loosen its bark may harbor an array of creatures, such as wood roaches, earwigs, and possibly even overwintering yellowjacket wasp queens. Miri Talabac, Baltimore Sun, 11 Jan. 2024 What’s more, this multi-purpose killer can be used on an array of other insects too, including ants, earwigs, household spiders, stink bugs, and even scorpions. Kat De Naoum, Better Homes & Gardens, 11 Apr. 2023 Weak in the Weeds Weeds are favorite hiding places for earwigs, thrips, and other pests and viruses. Deanna Kizis, Sunset Magazine, 13 Jan. 2023 Soon, the natural enemies — which include the lacewings, lady beetles, adult wasps, insect larvae, earwigs and birds — will arrive to assist us in aphid management. Rita Perwich, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6 May 2023 These include ants, fleas, crickets, spiders, earwigs, millipedes, silverfish, mites, palmetto bugs, and sow bugs. Kat De Naoum, Better Homes & Gardens, 11 Apr. 2023 This category includes a 3-inch-long earwig, various ungainly and flightless birds, and a giant rat (living on Flores, the same island where the miniature people were, unfortunately for them). Elizabeth Preston, Discover Magazine, 18 May 2012 Earwigs, especially babies (look like a mini earwig) can get to some of the top roots. oregonlive, 10 May 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'earwig.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English erwigge, from Old English ēarwicga, from ēare ear + wicga insect

First Known Use


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above


1804, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of earwig was before the 12th century


Dictionary Entries Near earwig

Cite this Entry

“Earwig.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/earwig. Accessed 18 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


: any of numerous insects with slender many-jointed antennae and a large forcepslike organ at the end of the body


Old English ēarwicga, from ēare "ear" and wicga "insect"

Word Origin
Centuries ago it was thought that a certain insect, whose body ended in what looked like a pair of pincers, crawled into people's ears. The Old English name for this insect was ēarwicga, a compound of ēare, meaning "ear," and wicga, meaning "insect." Earwig, our modern English name for the insect, comes from the Old English word, even though we know that the old belief is not true.

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