What is the gossip?

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It’s midweek, that means it’s time for ‘A Word for Wednesday’. This week, we’ve chosen a word that has become commonplace in British culture, yet whose origin is often confused: ‘Gossip’.

We are well aware of what the word ‘Gossip’ has come to mean. The general public’s fixation with the lives of celebrities has never been more apparent. We are bombarded daily across the media with often personal reports on the lives of others and these make alarmingly popular topics of conversation. How many times a week are we presented with insights into the private lives of celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Victoria Beckham or even the Royal Family?

The Oxford Dictionary defines gossip as: ‘the casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.

There is a popular etymological myth associated with the word ‘Gossip’, the kind that we would love to believe:

The story goes that before the days of telephones or mass communication, politicians would employ people to sit and eavesdrop in pubs in an attempt to gather a general public opinion for report. The politicians would give these employees the instruction: ‘Go sip some ale’. Eventually this shortened to simply ‘Go sip’.

Unfortunately, like most etymological myths this one is too good to be true! It seems that the way our language grows is much more progressive and organic. In fact most of the words in the English language have evolved into usage gradually over the years through absorbing, borrowing, merging and altering words from the continent.

The actual meaning derives from precisely one of these mergings, the words ‘God’ and ‘sib’ (sibling); forming the old English ‘godsib’.

Ironically, considering its connotations today, ‘Gossip’s’ origin is religious. ‘Godsib’ means literally ‘a person related to another in God’.

Naturally, the meaning underwent changes over time: this is called diachronic change. The word evolved to mean ‘close friend’ and by Shakespearian times specifically a female friend. Gossip now meant ‘a woman of a light and trifling nature especially one who delights in idle talk’(The Oxford Dictionary).

It was only in the 19th century when the word ‘Gossip’ began to refer to the ‘idle talk about other people’ itself.

We hope article sheds light on this hugely popular word!


13 Mar 2013
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