private eye

noun Slang.
a private detective.

Origin:
1935–40; eye, allusive phonetic rendering of I, abbreviation of investigator

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World English Dictionary
private eye
 
n
informal a private detective

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

private eye

A privately employed detective, as opposed to one working for the police or another authority. For example, The children loved stories about private eyes, and Janey wanted to become one. This expression comes from the term private investigator, the "i" of investigator being changed to "eye," which plays on the idea of a person looking into things. [1930s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
The big question now is who will play the roguish private eye as he tackles cases no one else wants to handle.
He declined to return phone calls, and slammed the door in the face of the private eye they'd hired to track him down.
His iconoclastic and likable private eye survives every crisis thrown his way.
Any private eye or vandal can buy your mobile-phone records.
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