Gossip, rumor, hearsay, tittle-tattle, scuttlebutt, scandal, dirt. Whatever the term, gossip is one of the most common—and most condemned—forms of discourse in which we engage. Around two-thirds of our daily conversation focuses on personal and interpersonal matters. If we were to keep a record of our activities during our waking hours, according to anthropologist Max Gluckman, only our time spent in work would exceed our time spent in gossiping.1 Gossip is a consummate human activity and occurs across time and space. Scholars have discovered gossip’s prevalence in a range of cultures, and Robin Dunbar has suggested “that language evolved to allow us to gossip.”2 Yet, even as gossip is intensely involving and interesting, it is also widely denigrated. At best, gossip is trivial and idle; at worst, it is invasive and destructive. Religious injunctions against both relaying and receiving gossip appear in Christian, Jewish, and Islamic texts, and concerns about the moral ramifications of gossip continue.3 The long association of gossip and women has strengthened these negative evaluations. Cultural aphorisms—such as the Danish “The North Sea will sooner be found wanting in water than a woman at a loss for a word” and the Chinese “The tongue is the sword of a woman, and she never lets it become rusty”—confirm this view.4


Colonial Period Small Talk Private Talk Foreign Service Everyday Production 
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© Kathleen A. Feeley and Jennifer Frost 2014

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