gossip

A word like a half-whisper over a cup of coffee. The central hiss, like a snake (or two snakes: ss), seems appropriate, for when gossips go sip coffee to gossip their gossip, we think it a very sordid thing practiced by small-minded people getting little digs in. And surely the faint hint of guess must be relevant, for how often is gossip founded firmly on fact? The image is further backed up by the g, the ugly letter found in gargoyle and goblin and pug: gossips are as unpleasant of face as of voice, no? Well, you tell me – go look in the mirror and report back. For who doesn’t share reported tidbits about others behind their backs? The worst of this is of course destructive, but in the main it serves valuable social functions, negotiating and constructing our worlds. (Besides, there is no other way to talk about celebrities than behind their backs, unless you happen to know them in person – though they all seem so familiar we find them suitable subjects. Note that next to idle and monger among common collocations for this word is columnist.) Gossip the verb comes from gossip the noun, which, before it was anyone who liked to share stories, was a close friend, and before that, specifically a godfather or godmother. The original word was godsibb: the god from god (not from the other Anglo-Saxon god, which became good), and the sibb from sib. Oh, and sib, not much used by itself anymore, means “blood relation.” A diminutive derivation of it is still common: sibling. (Odd, isn’t it, to see a more formal – scientific or bureaucratic-sounding – term coming from Old English rather than from Latin or Greek?) Fair enough: even still you may go and gossip with your sistahs and hear something that makes you say “Oh, brother!” …or possibly words more related to the first half of this word.

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