Many people wrongly believe that this proverb was a 20th century Australian modification of an earlier one " little pitchers have great ears ". The "ear" of the pitcher of course was the handle, which always had an ear-shaped design. The old adage was then modified further into " asses as well as pitchers have big ears ".
However, today most people have come to associate the meaning of the term as useful advice to grown ups, who need to watch what they say in front of children, in case the little ones hear something extremely sensitive or confidential , or bad language that should never be allowed to enter their vocabulary.
Yet the truth is this : only in bridge circles is the proverb used wisely and correctly, since its true origin dates back to the days when duplicate bridge became extremely popular. The advice given to many players was that one never talk about the hands after having just played them, because inferior ( little ) players, referred to as " rabbits " are more prone to eavesdropping than any one else. Desperate for any help or freely given information to help improve their scores, they would " tune in " to table post mortems on hands they were about to play. This desire to elicit valuable information caused them to " prick up " their ears , which to anyone looking on made it seem as though their ears were actually growing in size.
Clearly, this big ear , growth phenomenon became associated with players of little ability, integrity and honesty, hence the importance of the advice emanating from this wise old proverb " little rabbits have big ears ". When it comes to post-board discussions , either talk very very quietly or say nothing at all...........because the frightening reality is ......... the walls have ears too !