How gossip got its name

Wordymology is a series in which the editors at The Free Dictionary explore the origins of the names of things.
Rumor has it you’re ready for some gossip. (At least that’s what our cousin’s daughter’s babysitter’s godparent’s nephew’s barber said.) Allow us to spill some etymology tea.


Before the water cooler became the prime place to gather and chat at work, there was the scuttlebutt, the water cask on a ship. There are a few theories as to where the word “scuttlebutt” came from. It might be purely literal, as “scuttle” is a term for a small hatch in the deck or hull of a ship, and “butt” is another name for a cask. Or the word might be an alteration of “scuttled butt,” meaning a cask that has had a hole cut into it (“scuttle” can also mean “to cut”). Either way, stopping at the scuttlebutt for water gave sailors the opportunity to chat and made the word synonymous with “gossip.”


To snoop is to pry into other people’s business, especially by nosing around their stuff. The word comes from the Dutch term snoepen, meaning to eat furtively, perhaps after having stolen the food.


Although it sounds fancy, “schmoozing” is really just chatting and, in some cases, networking. It can, at times, cross over into gossiping, which is reflected in its etymology: “schmooze” comes from Yiddish and likely traces back to the Hebrew word shəmū‘ōth, meaning “gossip” or “reports.”


When you secretly listen to someone’s private conversation, you’re eavesdropping. Etymologically, the eaves are the ones doing the dropping. The term comes from the Middle English word evesdrop—the place where rainwater drips from the eaves of a building’s roof.


Depending on your relatives, you might not be surprised that “gossip” comes from the Old English term godsibb, meaning “godparent” (sibb here means “kinsman”). Over time, godsibb began to be used in reference to one’s close friends, especially a woman’s female friends who were close enough to be at the birth of her child—i.e. those she’d share secrets with.


If you do any of the things on this list, you might be a quidnunc—which is a delightful way of saying that you’re a busybody. A nosy person. A snooping, eavesdropping gossiphound. The word comes from the Latin phrase quid nunc?—meaning “What now?”
Now be a good quidnunc and dish this juicy info to all the busybodies in your life.
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