"Talking out of two ears"

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From p. 224 of the transcript of the April 30 session of The People of the State of New York against Donald Trump, Defendant, where prosecutor Joshua Steinglass is questioning Keith Davidson, who was Stormy Daniel's lawyer at the time of the hush-money payment from Michael Cohen:

Q. During this time, were you also speaking with Michael Cohen on the phone?

A. Yes.

Q. How would you describe his demeanor during this time?

A. He was highly excitable. Sort of a pants on fire kind of guy. He had a lot of things going on. Frequently I would be on the phone with him, he would take another call, he would be talking out of two ears. Sort of like that movie with the dogs and squirrels.

I think Davidson probably meant "hair on fire", which is the normal idiom for being excited, rather than "pants on fire", which is an idiom for egregious falsehood. And it's clear what "talking out of two ears" means, logic aside. But I don't get the "movie with the dogs and squirrels" reference — any suggestions?




  1. Daniel said,

    May 12, 2024 @ 3:11 pm

    Possibly *Up*, which has dogs who can talk with the aid of electronic collars, but who are regularly distracted by squirrels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSUXXzN26zg

  2. DCBob said,

    May 12, 2024 @ 3:45 pm

    Yup, Dug the dog in "Up" is almost certainly the reference. Very popular in my household. And workplace too, for that matter.

  3. Cervantes said,

    May 12, 2024 @ 4:29 pm

    Although "pants on fire" commonly refers to a liar — based on the schoolyard rhyme "liar, liar pants on fire" — it is also encountered in the context of extreme crisis. "He ran/yelled/jumped up and down like his pants were on fire" is something people would say. That doesn't seem wrong to me.

  4. Rick Rubenstein said,

    May 12, 2024 @ 4:42 pm

    My brain immediately went to a different mammal, a bat. Specifically, this classic bit from the '60s Batman TV series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgCkmUS1IYI.

  5. Phillip Helbig said,

    May 13, 2024 @ 1:06 am


    Fred had to sit in for his boss Mr. Slate. Qualifications? None necessary.

  6. Phillip Helbig said,

    May 13, 2024 @ 1:15 am

    Interesrtingly, I can’t find a longer version.

    What Batman and The Flintstones (originally a take-off on The Honeymooners, and back then after each episode Fred and Wilma were in a cigarett ad) have in common is that, while appealing to children, there is a lot of social satire and so on which only adults would get. These days, even many adults will miss the references to the Zeitgeist.

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    May 13, 2024 @ 3:13 am

    I have never encountered "pants on fire" as rhyming slang for "liar" but agree with Cervantes that a sentence such as "He ran down the road as if his pants were on fire" is (a) idiomatic, and (b) surprisingly transparent even to a native speaker of British English, where "pants" = "underpants", not "trousers". The mental image created would, for me at least, have the runner’s trousers on fire, not his underpants.

  8. KeithB said,

    May 13, 2024 @ 8:25 am

    Certainly "Up"

    I think the "two ears" comes about because he takes the call on a second phone, so he has a phone on each ear.

  9. Mark Liberman said,

    May 14, 2024 @ 7:16 pm

    @KeithB: "I think the "two ears" comes about because he takes the call on a second phone, so he has a phone on each ear."

    Of course. It's just that "talking out of (any number of) ears" is physically impossible for most humans…

  10. RfP said,

    May 15, 2024 @ 1:49 am


    I think “talking” is used here as shorthand for “participating in a conversation.“

    So: “he would be participating in two conversations—one out of each ear…”

    Davidson’s version reads a lot better to me—and has the advantage of being as vivid as it is technically inaccurate, in the best tradition of B-movie dialogue.

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    May 15, 2024 @ 7:50 am

    RfP — So: “he would be participating in two conversations—one out of each ear…” — surely, “he would be participating in two conversations—one in each ear…”, n’est-ce pas ?

  12. RfP said,

    May 15, 2024 @ 1:05 pm

    Philip — or perhaps “into” each ear!

    And I feel compelled to take this opportunity to thank you for your wonderful comment about the Greek history of Malta. It was one of the most heartwarming and funny comments I’ve read in a long time.

  13. RfP said,

    May 15, 2024 @ 1:11 pm

    Philip — Sicily! (All these posts about Malta are burning themselves into my memory circuits!)

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