General English


  • noun somebody who tries to find out secrets about another country


  • noun a person who secretly tries to obtain information about the enemy, or about a foreign power
  • verb to act as a spy


  • noun a person who watches, listens or investigates secretly to get information about another country, or a rival organisation
  • verb to watch, listen to, or investigate another country or rival organisation secretly to get information

Origin & History of “spy”

A spy is etymologically someone who ‘looks’. The word was adapted from Old French espie ‘watcher, spy’, a derivative of espier ‘watch, spy’ (from which English gets the verb spy, and also espy (14th c.) and espionage (18th c.)). this in turn was formed from the borrowed Germanic base *spekh- (source of German spähen ‘reconnoitre, watch’ and Swedish speja ‘spy, scout’), which went back ultimately to Indo-European *spek- ‘look’ (source of English inspect, spectator, etc).