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下で見ている人の悲鳴と交じり合って、風が耳元でヒューヒュー鳴った ...
The wind whistled in his ears, mingled with the screams of the people watching below ...

Would this sentence be weird if 耳元 was replaced with 耳? I'm trying to understand what もと adds to the sentence. I'm guessing it's related to the fact that the whistling is caused by the wind going past the ears rather than inside the ears. Not convinced though.

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The idea should be that objects making sounds are external to your ears. 耳元 is not a part of your body (e.g. this defines it 'close to one's ears'). Hence the choice. In that sense 耳元 refers to 風 rather than the sound.

Using 耳 would be common when it is e.g. about buzzing in ears (I don't know this is the right word, but I mean 耳鳴り).


Similar expression is 枕元{まくらもと}, which means just beside your pillow.

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