Created By: NateTheGreat on February 24, 2012 Last Edited By: NateTheGreat on September 17, 2016

Through The Listening Glass

Can't hear through the door? Put a glass against it.

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Trope
http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/glass_eavesdropper_270.bmp
Simple, but effective enough for foxy spies.

A character wants to eavesdrop what's happening on the other side of a door or wall. Putting their ear against the door isn't quite enough (maybe all they can hear is who's talking, not what's being said), so they put a drinking glass against the door and put their ear against that.

How does this work? When sound waves enter the glass they resonate against the sides. Thus they can stack up until the sound is loud enough for you to hear. This strategy is indeed Truth in Television. You can try this at home!

Note that glass creates an amplifying resonance a lot easier than other possible materials.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Akane does this in the Ranma manga.

Film
  • Carl Denham does this in Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong in order to listen in on what the producers are planning for his movie.

Literature
  • In Good Omens, Brian makes an innocent remark about his grandmother using a glass to listen in on her next-door neighbours. Though he doesn't seem to consider the implications, we're left to infer that she hears some raunchy stuff and yet keeps on eavesdropping.

Live-Action TV
  • Deconstructed on The Office (US). Kelly puts a glass to a wall in order to hear the conversation on the other side. When a character asks if she can hear them, she says "Yes, they're saying murmurmurmurmurmur".
  • I Love Lucy had Lucy using this several times during the duration of the series to eavesdrop on Ricky.
  • Jesse Pinkman does this in Breaking Bad, listening in on Jane's flat.
  • In one episode of Hi-de-Hi!, Yvonne and Barry Stuart-Hargreaves use a glass to eavesdrop on Gladys Pugh and Jeffrey Fairbrother in the neighouring chalet.
  • WKRP in Cincinnati. Les gets a mail-order "Sneaky Snooper" which is a jelly jar (or as Les claims, it's disguised as a jelly jar) with an antenna attached to it. He hopes to break some big stories with it.
  • Doctor Who. The Doctor does this in The Eleventh Hour to hear the voices on the other side of the crack in young Amy's bedroom wall.
  • Friends. The tenth season opener (set in Barbados) has Ross in bed with Charlie in one room, Joey in bed with Rachel in another, and everyone else listening at walls in the room between. No glasses used, but their absence is regretted.
  • Subverted in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob uses the glass the wrong way 'round and gets milk in his ear.
  • Glee. Some New Directions members do this in the first sectionals episode in order to eavesdrop on the judges' deliberations.

Video Games
  • This is one of the puzzle solutions in SPY Fox : Operation Ozone. You need the combination to Poodles Galore's safe to use her rocket, so Professor Quack provides Spy Fox with a gadget resembling an ordinary glass. He puts it against a window where employees at Ms. Galore's factory are on break and talk about the irregular safe combination because it's a Mad Libs Combination of words related to cosmetics rather than a number.
  • One of the Mini Games in Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull involves eavesdropping on one character this way.

Western Animation
  • Near the beginning of Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy's Big Picture Show, as the Eds are hiding from the rampaging cul-de-sac kids in Eddy's brother's room, Edd hears through the door to see if they are at the present location using a glass cup found in the room.
  • On an episode of Muppet Babies, highlighting comic strips, Piggy imagined herself to be Mary Worth listening in on her neighbors with a glass.
  • Wayside plays with this. They use the claim you can hear through the wall with a water glass, so Myron uses it to listen against Sherry's head while she's asleep.
  • American Dragon: Jake Long. Jake Long'' is sent to the principal's office. His friends Trixie and Spud stand outside with glasses of water trying to listen, but Spud doesn't get that he has to put the glass to the window and his ear to the glass for it to work, as Trixie tries to explain.

Community Feedback Replies: 77
  • February 24, 2012
    Antigone3
    One of the minigames in Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull involves eavesdropping on one character this way.
  • February 24, 2012
    Sackett
    This is a very common visual cue. Seen it in Tom And Jerry, several Live Action shows, I think there must be some truth in television to it.
  • February 25, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Subverted in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob uses the glass the wrong way 'round and gets milk in his ear.
  • February 25, 2012
    KevinKlawitter
    Carl Denham does this in Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong in order to listen in on what the producers are planning for his movie.
  • February 25, 2012
    Antigone3
    Forgot this one last night -- in Take A Thief, Skif goes to the effort to steal a real glass (as in, made of glass) so he can eavesdrop on the person he suspects of killing his partners.
  • February 26, 2012
    Rognik
    Wayside plays with this. They use the claim you can hear through the wall with a water glass, so Myron uses it to listen against Sherry's head while she's asleep.
  • February 27, 2012
    animeg3282
    This also needs a better description.
  • February 27, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Needs A Description. Description always comes before examples, otherwise you don't have a proper trope.
  • February 27, 2012
    surgoshan
    Perhaps Drinking Glass Stethoscope to make the title clearer, then for a description,

    Are your neighbors being inconsiderately quiet? That darn wall or door just keeps you from being able to hear what those jerks are saying! How are you going to gossip with Ethel if you don't know what they're doing over there?

    The answer is simple! Grab a handy dandy drinking glass and place it against the wall! Instant ear-noculars!

    • Friends: The tenth season opener (set in Barbados) has Ross in bed with Charlie in one room, Joey in bed with Rachel in another, and everyone else listening at walls in the room between. No glasses used, but their absence is regretted.
  • February 27, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Ugh, Example As A Thesis. It's ... at least better than nothing at all....
  • March 3, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Sometimes Example As A Thesis works, sometimes it doesn't.
  • March 3, 2012
    Duncan
    In the play The Woolgatherer, the girl says her neighbor does this all the time, so she has to be very quiet when having a man over.
  • March 5, 2012
    cygnavamp
    On an episode of Muppet Babies highlighting comic strips, Piggy imagined herself to be Mary Worth, listening in on her neighbors with a glass.
  • April 11, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • April 11, 2012
    TheNinth
    How about Drinking Glass Eavesdropping as a name? Drinking Glass Stethoscope makes me think someone would be trying to listen to someone's heart with it (which works, but isn't this trope).
  • April 12, 2012
    hummingbirdcake
    • Doctor Who: The Doctor does this in The Eleventh Hour to hear the voices on the other side of the crack in young Amy's bedroom wall.
  • April 29, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • June 11, 2012
    randomsurfer
    WKRP In Cincinnati: Les gets a mail-order "Sneaky Snooper" which is a jelly jar (or as Les claims, it's disguised as a jelly jar) with an antenna attached to it. He hopes to break some big stories with it.
  • June 11, 2012
    peccantis
    And uh... how is this a trope? It's directly compareable to using a bike to get somewhere faster, or reading with a magnifying glass, or taking pain medication to kill the pain, etc.
  • June 11, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Does it occur in fiction? Yes. Is it People Sit On Chairs? No. It's a trope.
  • June 11, 2012
    peccantis
    As it is described now, it is nothing more than patent PSOC. Using a device to amplify sound. You claim doctors using a stethoscope in fiction is a trope too?
  • June 11, 2012
    cygnavamp
    I think it qualifies as a trope because it underscores the fact that a character is being nosy.
  • June 12, 2012
    peccantis
    Any type of eavesdropping makes a character seem nosy, adding a waterglass to the picture does nothing significant and is too specific.
  • August 14, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • August 15, 2012
    BOFH
    Live Action TV
    • In one episode of Hi De Hi, Yvonne and Barry Stuart-Hargreaves use a glass to eavesdrop on Gladys Pugh and Jeffrey Fairbrother in the neighouring chalet.
  • August 15, 2012
    cygnavamp
    The water glass is a prop to let us know the character is deliberately listening in on a conversation and not casually overhearing it. Since most people don't have ready access to stethoscopes, a glass is more ubiquitous.
  • August 18, 2012
    HCl
    People in fiction use glasses to overhear conversations waaaay more than people in real life do. If I saw someone in real life doing it, I'd assume they were emulating something they'd seen on the telly. So, I don't think it's PSOC.
  • August 18, 2012
    cabr321
    • Jesse Pinkman does this in Breaking Bad, listening in on Jane's flat.
  • December 9, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • December 9, 2012
    triassicranger
    Newspaper Comics

    An edition of I Don't Believe It has a man frantically search about his bedroom looking for where the neighbour has hidden listening devices to hear what goes on in their bedroom. We then see the neighbour is applying a glass to the wall, thinking to himself something like "Who needs hi-tech devices?"
  • April 26, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    Any more input?
  • April 26, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    This is one of the puzzle solutions in Spy Fox : Operation Ozone. You need the combination to Poodles Galore's safe to use her rocket, so Professor Quack provides Spy Fox with a gadget resembling an ordinary glass. He puts it against a window where employees at Ms. Galore's factory are on break and talk about the irregular safe combination because it's a Mad Libs Combination of words related to cosmetics rather than a number.
  • June 30, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • June 30, 2013
    Skylite
    • I Love Lucy had Lucy using this several times during the duration of the series to eavesdrop on Ricky.
  • July 6, 2013
    rcmerod52
    Western Animation
    • Near the beginning of Ed Edd N Eddy's Big Picture Show, as the Eds are hiding from the rampaging cul-de-sac kids in Eddy's brother's room, Edd hears through the door to see if they are at the present location using a glass cup found in the room.
  • July 7, 2013
    1810072342
    While it may not necessarily be a bad thing, the title does look at first like three random nouns and a verb.
  • July 7, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    So suggest a better name. I'd love if we can get this down to two words, but is it possible?
  • July 8, 2013
    Arivne
  • July 8, 2013
    capsaicinfinity
    • In Good Omens, Brian makes an innocent remark about his grandmother using a glass to listen in on her next-door neighbours. Though he doesn't seem to consider the implications, we're left to infer that she hears some raunchy stuff and yet keeps on eavesdropping.
  • November 5, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • November 5, 2013
    FGHIK
    Haven't really seen this one too much..
  • November 5, 2013
    DAN004
    Needs a confirmation from Mythbusters plz.
  • November 5, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    haven't seen this one once. also, "cup" is less ambiguous than glass.

    i pictured someone grabbing a glass window and listening through that on a door...
  • November 5, 2013
    AP
    • Subverted on The Office US. Kelly puts a glass to a wall in order to hear the conversation on the other side. When a character asks if she can hear them, she says "Yes, they're saying murmurmurmurmurmur".
  • November 6, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    I put all the examples in place. The rest is up to you.
  • November 7, 2013
    Synchronicity
    • Glee: Some New Directions members do this in the first sectionals episode in order to eavesdrop on the judges' deliberations.
  • January 4, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    More input on the name?
  • January 4, 2014
    DennisDunjinman
    I like the name so far. But it's slightly unwieldy.

    You could call it the Glass Spy Ear. Or something referring to the prop rather than the action.
  • January 4, 2014
    m8e
    I'm not suggesting Spy Glasses...
  • March 20, 2014
    XFllo
    bumping
  • March 20, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    Shouldn't that The Office example be subverted rather than deconstructed?
  • March 20, 2014
    DAN004
  • March 20, 2014
    AP
    ^^ Yes. no idea why I had deconstructed on there. Brain fart, I guess.
  • May 12, 2014
    littlemissmuffet
    An episode of All In The Family had Archie use a glass to eavesdrop on an argument Mike and Gloria were having. When Mike heard Archie loudly object to an insult he got back at him by pounding on the wall.
  • May 12, 2014
    erforce
    Literature
    • In The Man With The Golden Gun, Scaramanga tells James Bond, who has infiltrated his business as a hired assistant, to guard the door to the conference room where he helds meetings with his funders. Bond uses this technique to eavesdrop on them, and learns about the fact that Scaramanga plans to get rid of him soon.
  • May 12, 2014
    SquirrelGuy
    In a MAD Magazine "Lighter Side" feature, a man is complaining that the neighbors are too loud. When his wife says she can't hear a thing, her husband replies of course she can't — "You gotta have a glass against the wall."
  • May 13, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
    Proper term is either tumbler or cup.
  • May 13, 2014
    Arivne
  • June 19, 2014
    foxley
    Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries: In "The Blood of Juana the Mad", Phyrne uses a water glass to hear the tumblers in a safe door.
  • September 19, 2014
    NateTheGreat
  • September 19, 2014
    SpiderRider3
    Live Action TV
    • Sophia does this to listen in on the girls' conversation in the kitchen in The Golden Girls. Sophia's eavesdropping in the show is a Running Gag.
  • September 20, 2014
    Skylite
    Drinking Glass Amplifier or Drinking Glass Eavesdropping
  • September 20, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ I like the latter.
  • September 21, 2014
    StarSword
    Page quote:
    "You wanna see a show? I need a cup."
    Michael Westen as the safe-cracker "Joseph", "Scatter Point", Burn Notice

    TV:
    • In the Burn Notice episode "Scatter Point" Michael demonstrates the safe-cracking skills of his Cover ID of the Week "Joseph" by opening a convenience store safe with a plastic coffee cup against the lock.
  • December 12, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • December 12, 2014
    Duncan
    In the play The Woolgatherer, the lead's landlady does this to her, to be sure she's not having men over.
  • December 30, 2014
    Espun
    Eavesdropping of this sort can also be done through walls and such. Should Door really be specified? Also, what if a paper cup is used?
  • December 30, 2014
    Espun
    Anime And Manga
    • In The Voynich Hotel, Room 402 resident Haraki attempts this both with a normal glass and a wine glass.
  • January 1, 2015
    randomsurfer
    ^^As I understand it a glass is necessary in order to carry the vibrations from the door/wall to the ear. A paper cup wouldn't work. That's real life of course; in fiction people can use any damn thing they want. I've even seen stethoscopes used (can't recall where though).
  • October 17, 2015
    NateTheGreat
    Does anyone have a better name?
  • October 17, 2015
    robinjohnson
    How about Through The Listening Glass?
  • October 17, 2015
    NateTheGreat
    As a member of the late lamented FORKS, I approve.
  • October 17, 2015
    DAN004
    ^^ Clear enough, so okay.
  • June 16, 2016
    NateTheGreat
    Any more votes for Through The Listening Glass?
  • June 16, 2016
    Arivne
  • June 26, 2016
    69BookWorM69
    ^, ^^ I also concur.

    I think this happens in a Murdoch Mysteries episode. I'll look it up and get back to you.
  • September 17, 2016
    DAN004
    Launch soon!
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