Two women, one of them whispering into the other's ear, as if gossiping or telling a secret.

The Evolution of Gossip

The Evolution of Gossip

Gossip has served as a survival tool since prehistoric times. In fact, the citizens of Ancient Greece relied on idle talk and rumors to determine which members of their community could not be trusted. Similarly, the law courts of Athens based their decisions on the societal reputation of the defendant instead of hard evidence. In the twenty-first century, however, the word “gossip” is accompanied by the dangerous stigmatization of women. Undoubtedly, the misogynistic propaganda has added false connotations to an activity intended to facilitate trust and bonding among friends. Without awareness of the rich history of gossip, society will continue to believe that it is simply a pastime for loose-lipped women. 

The history of the word “gossip” is more fascinating than one may think. According to Word Histories, the term is derived from, “godsibb”, which combines the noun “God” and the adjective “sib”. The original meaning defines a “godsibb” as someone who forms a bond of spiritual affinity with another individual after serving as a sponsor at their baptism. Hence, what we know today as a godparent was once referred to as a godsibb in the Old English vernacular. In fact, churches often used the word as it was affiliated with the sacred act of baptism. For example, sources such as Glossophilia and Medium report that Saint Wulfstan, a popular bishop who lived from c.1008 to 1905, incorporated the phrase into his sermons. 

The definition of the word “gossip” has undergone several changes over the past centuries. Word Histories states that years after it first emerged, the phrase was used to refer to friends and familiar acquaintances. Later on, it was used to refer to a woman’s female friends who were invited to witness the birth of her child. Shakespeare even used the word in his 1600 publication, Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which he wrote, “Sometimes lurke I in a gossippes bole”. Needless to say, the word “gossip” has been around longer than we think. 

Apart from being used as a term to refer to godparents, acquaintances and the witnesses of births, gossip served as an act through which individuals communicate privately with each other. As explained by Eat My News, the people of prehistoric times used conversation to find out more about potential mates, catch up with old friends and learn about their community’s latest news. Today, gossip still presents a myriad of benefits. According to Health Shots, chatter among friends releases hormones such as serotonin and oxytocin as it helps to create an emotional connection. Venting to loved ones also allows us to relieve burdensome feelings of anxiety and stress. Additionally, sharing personal stories about people who have hurt us provokes feelings of empathy and understanding from others. Gossip was never intended to hold a negative connotation, or be seen as a female bad habit.