Why Are Investigators Called Private Eyes and Gumshoes?

You’ve probably watched television shows and movies over the years and heard your favorite private detective or investigator referred to as a “private eye” or “gumshoe.”

But have you ever wondered exactly how those terms came to be and why they continue to be used all these years later? The story is really pretty interesting.

Let’s start with the one that is most easily ascertained and that’s the usage of the term “private eye” to refer to those who work in the private investigative field. This is one of these explanations that, if you don’t know the answer already, will make you shake your head at its simplicity.

The term “private eye” is really nothing more than a funny reference to the first letter of the word investigator. While people may write out “private eye,” what they really mean is “private I.”

Now that’s the answer that makes the most sense, but there are a few urban legends and myths out there about the origins of this term. The most popular, yet unproven, theory is that people started using the term “private eye” due to the existence of an old private investigative agency in the 1850s in Chicago.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency used to use an eye as its logo, thus causing speculation that this is how the popular term originated. It’s also been used in well read novels of the early 1930s, most notably those written by author Raymond Chandler.

The first explanation makes the most sense. Still, it’s fun to think about the past and how popular terms like “private eye” came to be.

Now let’s talk about your favorite “gumshoe.” You may not hear this used as frequently as “private eye,” but most people have probably heard this word used on several occasions when watching old detective shows on television.

The origins of this word for a private detective really isn’t open to debate. Private detectives were very popular back in the 19th century, long before the modern footwear we all take for granted in the 2020s.

In the late 1800s, shoes had leather soles but were slowly being replaced by those with soles made of gum rubber. These types of shoes were much quieter, which made it easier for investigators and detectives to follow targets and suspects without making very much noise.

So “gumshoe” came to be synonymous with “private investigator” and simply grew to be a part of the popular vernacular of the day.

You don’t hear investigators called gumshoes very often these days, but the term will live on forever in popular television shows and movies. And who knows, maybe you can even work it into a few sentences from time to time just for fun?

Private investigators have been around for hundreds of years and no matter what they’re called, they perform an invaluable service in communities around the United States and the world just as our private detective Houston team.

If you need the services of a private eye or gumshoe in your area, do your homework and find one that checks all of your boxes. Good investigators are located in every area of the world; just ask the right questions to be sure you’re dealing with one who’s reputable and above reproach.

Remember to check out our article “Why You Should Hire A Private Investigator If You Think They’re Cheating” to learn more about how our private investigators can help discover cheating spouses!

Good luck!

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