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flea in one’s ear

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flea in one’s ear n [OED c1430 →] chiefly NEast See Map old-fash

A hint, warning, disquieting disclosure; a rebuke.

1822 Irving Bracebridge 1.229 NY, If you had taken a friend’s advice, you’d never have come away from Doncaster races with a flea in your ear! 1927 AmSp 2.362 wcWV, To warn a friend against treachery. “I will put a flea in his ear when I see him again.” [1933 Cobb Murder 213 seNY, I think possibly I may have a flea to put in his ear.] 1948 Funk Hog on Ice 181, To be sent away with a flea in the ear indicated that one had received a sharp and stinging reproof or rebuff, often wholly unexpected. . . Now we use it to carry no greater meaning than that of warning. 1950 WELS (“He didn’t guess that she was up to anything, but I _____.”) 2 Infs, WI, Put a flea in his ear. 1954 Harder Coll. cwTN, Put a bug (flea) in his ear: To give a hint. 1965–70 DARE (Qu. JJ27, To give somebody a hint for his own good: “He had no idea that she was up to anything, but I put _____.”) 30 Infs, chiefly NEast, A flea in his ear. [25 Infs old]

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