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flea in one’s ear n

[OED c1430 →]chiefly NortheastSee Map

A hint, warning, disquieting disclosure; a rebuke.

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  • 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]
flea in one’s ear (Qu. JJ27)