Meanings of “A Word in Your Shell-Like Ear”
The phrase means let me tell you something privately or secretly. In the phrase, ‘Shell-Like’ is used as an adjective for ears. A person using this phrase usually wants to share information that he does not want to share with anyone. It is also used when the speaker wants to save the listener from an embarrassing situation. It could be used in the sense of a whisper.
In London, the phrase used as a slang ‘A word in your shell-like’ without add the word ‘ear’ which also means the same. There are additional two short forms of the phrase – A word in your ear and A word in your shell-like. All the variations of phrases can be interpreted as ‘I’d like to talk to you (privately).
Origin of “A Word in Your Shell-Like Ear”
“This, with more tender logic of the kind,
He pour’d into her small and shell-like ear,
That timidly against his lips inclin’d;
Meanwhile her eyes glanced on the silver sphere.”
Another use is traced to be in Mckean County Miner; a Pennsylvania based paper cited it in its publication of 1878.
“Without a word he clasped Miss Patterson in his arms. ‘My darling!’ was all he said. She struggled to free herself, strongly at first: but as he whispered something in the crimson shell-like ear close to his trembling lips, the pretty head sank upon his shoulder…”
Examples in Literature
A Word in Your Shell-Like Ear by Nigel Rees
This is a dictionary or thesaurus type of informative book in which more than 6,000 such phrases have been explained. The author, Nigel Rees, who is a lexicographer of note, traced their origin, incidents related to them and their first usages. These phrases include titles, clichés, slangs, nicknames, quotations, and idiomatic phrases. Although there are many other books in the market, it seems to be a replacement of the old Brewer’s book titled as Phrase and Fable. The book has highlighted many extinct and new phrases and traced their origins, which makes it a unique book of this type. However, it is quite interesting that this book has not given many origins and etymological roots of its title.
From the third chapter of The Public Property by Michael Ferres
“Yes, I know. Look, I know it’s Sunday, and I’m interfering with one of your rare moments of domestic felicity, and I’m a dreadful nuisance and a bore, but if you could just let me pour a few words in your shell-like ear for about five minutes, I’m sure you will agree this is a beauty.”
“What’s wrong with Len? He’s very competent editor.”
Craig sighted into the phone. “Well, quite frankly, I don’t think Len would put it in.”
“Then perhaps it’s a bad story.” There was silence at Craig’s end – sad, patient – and then Mr. Penley resumed, “All right. Go on.”
The paragraph highlights the conversation of Mr. Craig and Mr. Penley, two major characters involved in this section. Mr. Craig is sharing the details of the new editor that Mr. Penley is going to employ. The phrase has been used in the sense that Mr. Craig would first give some detail to Mr. Penely. In fact, he is asking Mr. Penley to give full attention to him for five minutes so that he can discuss the details with him. It means that the phrase has been used in the sense of demanding full attention without getting distracted.
A Spanish Love Song by Mason Carnes
Each is laden with my love,
Each one bears to thee above
Incense from an inmost shrine,
Tokens from my heart to thine
“Love me,” whispers every one,
“Love me, love me but alone.”
In your shell-like ear there steal
Tiding of the love I feel.
Do these love-notes reach thy heart,
Do they make it trembling start
With a thrill of warm delight,
Or but meet with cold despite,
Mason Carnes has written this song to express the love for Isabel. The singer asks Isabel, his beloved, whether his love notes reach her ears or not. The phrase has been used in the sense of whether she pays attention to his love notes or not. The phrase has been used in the second stanza where he has preferably used the shell-like ears as the subject instead of as the object of the hearing. Therefore, it is a bit adjustment in the phrase that Mason Carnes has done to clarify his meanings.
Examples in Sentences as Literary Devices
Example #1: “A word in your shell-like ear would do nothing unless you are ready to hear it.” Here the phrase has been used as a metaphor for the whisper.
Example #2: “John has a word in your shell-like ear exactly like Jolly who whispers to you her poetry so that others should not hear.” In this sentence, the full phrase has been compared to the whisper of Jolly. Therefore, it has been used as a simile as the word “like” suggests.
Example #3: “Jessie speaks a word in your shell-like ear when you do not pay attention.” First, this phrase has been used as a metaphor of whisper, and second, the phrase itself is an example of comparison though it is a simile as the word “like” suggests. However, the comparison is also a separate rhetorical device used in this phrase.
Example #4: “They have spoken many words in your shell-like ear, but you do not hear.” Here the speaker is using the phrase to accuse or rebuke the listener.
Example #5: “A word in your shell-like ear, you have to trust me,” whispered Noah, “Don’t send the report, you have to change the final quotes.” Here the phrase is used by the speaker to share private information and to stop him/her from sending reports.