Friday, September 16, 2011

Random research: gossip

Before we start, look! This blog now has a "subscribe" button! If you like to stop in once in a while, please join this blog's three intrepid followers. I'd also love your comments.

Now, the Random Research Word of the Day:

The word "gossip" comes the late Old English godsibb, from god 'God' + sibb 'a relative', or "a person related to one in God."* 

When a woman had a baby, her husband fetched the midwife ("with the woman"), who helped deliver the baby,  and the gossips—female neighbors who cooked, cleaned, took care of the other children...and sat around knitting, waiting, and talking. And old usage of the word "gossip" is a friend or confidant.

Seems like there ought to be a moral to this etymology beyond, wow, words sure change over time.

Possibly even beyond, careful about what you speak about, who you speak about, and how you speak about them, even with your close friends.

OK, how about this:
The word "gossip" originally referred to women as sisters, related to us in God. The word as presently constituted implies conversations that draw boundaries between "us" and "them," often in a malicious way. But, who isn't a brother or sister, from God's point of view? If we relate to each person as a brother or sister in God, we won't ever feel inclined to indulge in conversations that hurt others or that cast anyone as an outsider.

Or something! Happy Random Research day!

* Dictionary v. 2.1.3, Apple, Inc.


  1. Hi Lee Ann. I'm subscribed to your blog through Google Reader, so make that four of us.
    Perhaps the term became a caricature, exaggerating that the only thing a gossip did was sit around talking scandals, to the point that it became a pejorative to call someone a gossip. This seems to happen to a lot of terms for women's roles such as "witch" or "mistress."

  2. I'm Doug Summers-Stay, by the way.

  3. Thanks for sharing. It has given me something to think about. :)

  4. I love the etymology of words! It is interesting how the passing of information, like so many behaviors, can be so different--loving caretaking or malicious gossip--depending on our motives. AND can LOOK so different, depending on the eyes and heart of the onlooker.

  5. Yay, I subscribed!

    Fascinating post. I had no idea.


Lee Ann Setzer's blog about books, writing, and life in general.