In September of 1949, the show, “Martin Kane, Private Eye,” made its debut on TV — featuring a smooth talking, wisecracking operator who worked closely with the police out of Happy McMann’s tobacco shop. Hardly a man of vision, this private eye (1942) was just the “i” in p.i, an abbreviated version of the private investigator.
Earlier he had been an eavesdropper, “one who listened secretly to conversations” (1450), from no other place than the space on the ground on which rainwater dropped from the eaves.
As to his snooping (1832), that came from the Dutch snoepen, “to eat in secret” or “grab some sweets on the sly.”
But it took the Latin tegere, “to cover” + de, “off,” to help him detegere, “to uncover” things — which is, after all, what detecting is all about. It also made him a detective (1836)—the first fictional one being Auguste Dupin, created by the pen of Edgar Allan Poe.
Condensed, he became the Dick (1900), later, a gumshoe, from the rubber-soled shoes he reputedly wore to assure noiseless movement.
“Whodunit?” you ask. It’s a word first coined in 1930 in an article in the American News of Books. Here it’s William Gargan and Lloyd Nolan, the first two Martin Kanes.
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