While gossip is at first blush and from toffee-nosed reserve normally identified as malicious, I think we can all agree it is mostly just chit-chat or at the very worse whispers or rumour. Sometimes we quip that it is “dirt” (which I interpret not as idle or scandalous talk but rather the latest news). In whatever manner we characterize the enterprise, gossip is little more than scuttle-butt or blather, none of which is especially offensive. If the unconstrained conversation involves details that are not confirmed to be true, this element speaks more to its vitality than its intention. I hardly adjudge a chinwag a court of law. If the canards were to become offensive it is probably because we collectively view the aspirant as a busy-body (though pointedly that seldom succeeds to diminish our compelling interest in what is being advanced). Being a tittle-tattler is entirely another matter. Spilling the beans is Okay.
The word is from Old English godsibb, from god and sibb, the term for the godparents of one’s child or the parents of one’s godchild, generally very close friends. In the 16th century, the word assumed the meaning of a person, mostly a woman, one who delights in idle talk, a newsmonger, a tattler. In the early 19th century, the term was extended from the talker to the conversation of such persons. The verb to gossip, meaning “to be a gossip”, first appears in Shakespeare.
The term originates from the bedroom at the time of childbirth. Giving birth used to be a social event exclusively attended by women. The pregnant woman’s female relatives and neighbours would congregate and idly converse. Over time, gossip came to mean talk of others.
The current danger if any of gossip is what is transmitted not through the customary model of private conversation; rather, what is publicized in so-called “social media” which critically is always one-way between unidentified parties. Certainly those on-line platforms enable adolescent vulgarities but the menacing emissions are those directed at politics, religion, race or sexuality. Those subjects are not the harmless observations of either hearsay or shooting the breeze.
For this reason people are gradually being educated to question not merely the possibility of mendacity but more particularly the source of the information. Our intelligence is further expanded to contemplate the object of the campaign which can naturally colour the ingredients. Knowing this does at the very least bestow a veil of personal ambition upon what is being shared.
The limitiation of gossip as an adjunct of feminity is preposterous. Some of the best gossip circulates in congregations of men following golf games or among lawyers in the disrobing chambers. I find most people of any description jokingly welcome the opportunity to gossip rather than pretending to adopt some elevated social abbreviation. Subject naturally to the customary speculative qualifications.
Amusingly the Apocrypha of the Bible are willingly tolerated by the same people who would promptly put their nose well in the air if confronted with the acquaintance of an alleged gossip. It is a reminder to be wary of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. By similar deduction one mustn’t be deceived by those who, by appearance only, have what is otherwise considered the absolution of veracity. This category normally embraces those who by societal standards have either the accredited education or sartorial sanction of truth – such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, clergy and teachers. Once again we are taken back to what is being said, not by whom it is being uttered. It is often a splash of cold water to enforce the allegiance to precision rather than veneer.
Teaching one’s children to adopt a squint at whatever they are being told is not without its congestion; however, even the simplest assertion can be instructive. For example, asking a child to determine the answer to this question:
If a baseball and a bat cost $1.10 together, and the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?
This puzzle illustrates the difference between impulsive (or intuitive) and reflective (or analytical) thinking.
The bat-and-ball problem is our first encounter with an observation that will be a recurrent theme: many people are overconfident, prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible.
The correct answer is 5 cents. Don’t feel bad if you guessed 10 cents; you’re in good company. If you even hesitated about your answer, that is a good sign! Bottom line: Don’t jump to conclusions!