The adjective curtain-twitching is used attributively of a person who likes to observe other people’s activities from his or her window, in a furtive and prying manner.
The noun curtain-twitcher designates a person who likes to observe other people’s activities from his or her window, in a furtive and prying manner.
– peeping Tom;
– Paul Pry;
– nosey parker.
The adjective curtain-twitching occurs, for example, in People are going spare about Prince Harry’s memoir. Just don’t ask them why, by Marina Hyde, published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Friday 28th October 2022:
Perhaps, like me, you can’t quite work out in whose service the extreme anger at Harry’s every move is now unleashed. It supposedly used to be on unbidden behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, but now she is “sadly passed” (a phrase which also features on the Haslam drying-up cloth this year), it’s hard to decide for whom all this category-5 curtain-twitching fury is occurring.
The noun curtain-twitcher occurs, for example, in the review of The Stasi Poetry Circle (London: Faber & Faber Ltd, 2022) by Philip Oltermann—review by Anthony Quinn, published in The Observer (London, England) of Sunday 13th February 2022:
A total of 620,000 informers were listed on the Stasi’s books between 1950 and 1989, their role to report on dodgy tendencies and opinions among the populace. The GDR [= German Democratic Republic] was, in effect, a nation of curtain-twitchers.
The earliest occurrences that I have found of the adjective curtain-twitching and of the noun curtain-twitcher are as follows, in chronological order:
1-: From Bid for Memories, a short story by Margaret A. Watson, published in the Gloucester Journal (Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England) of Saturday 4th May 1940:
“I’m planning to take tea with you, and after that—anything might happen.”
“Guy, be serious.”
“I am—very. Do you realize it’s a long time since you asked me to tea?”
“I do—and I’m not asking you now. You come to me when you’re at a loose end—to play with you—well, this time, I’m busy!”
“I love you when you’re fierce.”
“You don’t love anyone but yourself; if the admiration of all the curtain-twitching old ladies of Melbury satisfies you, it’s nothing to do with me. Your life’s a game—mine isn’t.”
2-: From the column Cruiskeen Lawn, by ‘Myles na gCopaleen’, published in The Irish Times (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Tuesday 17th December 1940—as quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary (online edition, September 2022):
Bean fuinneoige, a curtain-twitcher, a gossip, a tell-tale, a Pauline Pry.
3-: From the column In Washington, by Carleton Kent, published in The Independent (Pasadena, California, USA) of Friday 24th June 1949:
The FBI necessarily collects a great deal of trivia and malicious gossip from curtain-twitching neighbors, and leaves the evaluation of it to the agency for whom it is doing the investigating.
4-: From the review of Postman’s Knock (London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd, 1954) by J. F. Straker—review by ‘K. L.’, published in The Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette (Sunderland, Durham, England) of Saturday 26th June 1954:
The investigation begins with the disappearance of a postman from his round just before Christmas, when the residents of Grange Road, somewhere in Suburbia, are waiting for him to call. Probably no street, suburban or otherwise, has ever housed such an assortment of characters as this, though Inspector Pitt’s star witness, a curtain-twitching old neighbour watcher, is not unknown as a type.
5-: From the review of Dear Miss Phoebe, a musical play presented by the Riley High School Drama and Glee Clubs, published in The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana, USA) of Friday 26th April 1957:
The curtain-twitching neighbors, the Misses Wiloughby and Henrietta ably sustain their parts and complicate the plot, highlighting their performance with the singing of “Livvy’s Had One of her Turns.”
6-: From an article by Julia Inman about the U.S. novelist and short-story writer Hortense Calisher (1911-2009), published in The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA) of Sunday 16th December 1962:
Most of Miss Calisher’s tales are spun to cover a void of loneliness. There is the half-ironic, half-humorous saga of Ginevra Leake. Born and bred a lace-curtain-twitching Southern lady, Ginevra is smothered by her mother until she finally finds her “set”—the Communist Party.
7-: From The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA) of Friday 22nd May 1964:
‘Big Brother’ Coming, Or Lot Of Snooping?
By JULIA INMAN
APPARENTLY a lot of well-concealed skeletons have been tumbling out of closets all over the country. ABC Reports last night turned its cameras on the “spying” Americans do on each other in a half hour titled “Big Brother Is Listening.”
Network commentator Howard K. Smith viewed with alarm the growing invasion of personal privacy that is resulting from increased “snooping.”
Things apparently have come a long way from housewives who used to be lace-curtain twitchers, peering out of windows to find out what the neighbors were doing. Now you can buy a “toy” that will pick up the Jones-next-door’s conversation loud and clear.
8-: From a letter to the Editor, published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Lancashire, England) of Thursday 28th May 1970:
I RECENTLY lived on a new estate in North Wales. Not an estate of semis, but bungalows and what were termed “mews-type houses,” really terrace-type houses, but modern. They had garages sticking out at the front.
We all one-upped each other in fine style.
I used to wash my car with my plastic bucket AND plastic hose. I sometimes did this in the rain to give the curtain twitchers something to look at.
9-: From The balloon goes up when Rollo’s wife vanishes, by Farmer Quince, published in the Guardian Journal (Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England) of Friday 21st August 1970:
ROLLO’s wife has gone off again with all the children. […]
Well, we could not tolerate this disgrace to Goosevale—The first clue was provided by Twacker Perks’s wife, one of the biggest curtain twitchers in the village, who had watched Mrs. Robinson take off.
10-: From an article about mental-health volunteers, by Charlotte Wittwer, published in The Pensacola Journal (Pensacola, Florida, USA) of Saturday 25th September 1971:
A woman whose children are nearly grown-up chooses to give up a “curtain-twitching” type of housewifery and spend a few hours a day helping others with their problems.
11-: From the review of The Village in the City. Towards a New Society (London: Maurice Temple Smith Ltd, 1973) by Nicholas Taylor—review by Hugh Casson, published in The Observer (London, England) of Sunday 13th May 1973:
THIS is a book about where most people live—or where, says the author, most people given half a chance would like to live. The place is of course suburbia. Not the Habitat-stuffed ghettos of the Stringalongs, nor the swimming-pooled half-worlds of Sunningdale and Sevenoaks, but the real suburbia of Mr Pooter, the squeaky-gated, bay-windowed, curtain-twitching suburbia of Lewisham and Willesden, of Wandsworth and Wood Green. This is the ordinary Englishman’s idea of home, despised by the mandarins, the joke of the music-halls and, because it has so triumphantly escaped their attentions, the despair of architects (or to be fair, some architects).
12-: From an article by Jayne Gilman about the Volunteer Section, Ealing Town Hall, published in the Ealing Gazette (Ealing, London, England) of Friday 13th February 1976:
Nobody wants nosy neighbours, lace curtain twitchers who inspect every visitor and count the empty wine bottles in the dustbin.
But friendly concern is another matter. If neighbours know what is going on and who might need a little help, then a lot of unhappiness can be relieved, and tragedies perhaps prevented.
13-: From A lesson in courage from Sandra, published in the Evening Post (Reading, Berkshire, England) of Thursday 8th September 1977:
We forget that we are all neighbours—and I dare say we would all like to think we are good neighbours who would give support, help and friendship to someone going through a rough time.
Every street has its curtain twitchers and corner gossips—and a whole lot more decent, friendly folk who come up with astonishing acts of kindness.
The phrase curtain-twitching is also used as a noun denoting the practice of observing other people’s activities from one’s window, in a furtive and prying manner. The following, for example, is from the column Barbs, published in The Sumter Daily Item (Sumter, South Carolina, USA) of Thursday 16th April 1970:
Our neighbors aren’t nosy—it’s just that their hobby is curtain-twitching.