GOSSIP was part of human activity centuries before the Internet increased its punch.
The Bible warns that gossip “betrays a confidence” and “separates close friends.” Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” Chinese, Spanish and Jewish proverbs all describe the impact of gossip.
The English word “gossip” originated as “godsibb,” referring to a godparent. Because godmothers often assisted with the birth of a child or were present in all-female settings, the word became understood as women who talked frequently.
Until about the 16th century, gossip denoted friendship. Today, gossip is defined by the dictionary as “chatty talk; the reporting of sensational or intimate information.”
Spreading rumours is an instinct modern humans have kept since the Stone Age, said a report in the Harvard Business Journal. In those days, information was swapped to let others know who was the chief hunter. Rumours now help people win advantage in a social network, said Nigel Nicholson, a professor at the London Business School.
In Shakespeare’s Othello, the Moorish general murders his new wife Desdemona after the villain Iago repeatedly accuses her of having an affair. Moments later, Othello learns that Iago’s words were false.
During the Second World War, “alien enemy ears” were presumed to be everywhere and “gossip control” was considered to be a legitimate government activity.
In recent times, rumours have been cited for the destruction of reputations. Former U.S. labour secretary Raymond Donavan was forced to resign after unfounded rumours of wrongdoing were leveled against him. “Where do I go to get my reputation back?” he asked reporters after a court exonerated him.