What’s the deal with gossiping? Have we always felt the need to talk about each other? Is it as negative as we think it is? Turns out, gossiping is pretty natural in the development of human language, and it actually can be a positive thing.
In 16th-17th century Britain, gossipers, known as scolds, were punished. Someone committing the crime of gossiping was made to wear an iron cage around their head, called a “scold’s bridle.” The masks had iron spikes that prevented the individual from speaking. It would have been pretty great in high school if gossiping was treated this way. But as it turns out, this is only one side of the story. Most gossip is not malicious.
Research shows that gossiping dates back to the origin of language itself. The need to communicate and share information to others is what created gossip. Gossiping is the sharing of information about someone that is not there. Although it has a negative stigma, gossiping is quite positive and even helpful. Some research even claims that gossip is a primary function of language.
When people began living in large groups, it became necessary to speak to each other to learn what every was doing. Gossiping grew out of the need to keep tabs on everyone. When someone shares a story about someone, it is usually to share wisdom or a lesson. Kind of a learn from my mistakes type of thing. It is also a great way to share social norms and what behavior is expected in a group.
Linguist researcher Robin Dunbar claims that language was developed through the grooming habit of primates. Rather than the physical grooming of cleaning each other, a sort of vocal grooming was born as a substitute. The mental stimulation of telling a story or sharing information with another individual replaced the physical stimulation of being cleaned by another primate. The act of grooming also leads to the development of conversations to pass the time. Think of the beauty salon or the barber shop, both notable places for “hot gossip.”
I’m sure you’ve been the new person at the office. There is always that one person who comes up to you and gives you the rundown. This person does this, or this person doesn’t like that. Learning this information is vital to how we successfully function in different social settings. Gossiping is a way to acclimate yourself in a setting and figure out how to behave.
Gossiping is not just the malicious teasing of someone who is not there. It is simply the sharing of information about someone else. A majority of the time gossiping is not a negative activity. Think about your end of the day conversation with your spouse or friends. Sharing how your day went, maybe repeating an encounter you had with someone that day. That’s gossiping. Gossip is a way to entertain and influence one another, and not just a way to ruin someone’s high school experience.