Almost everyone has at one time or another engaged in gossip.  Some people do it all the time with little regard to the consequences.  Gossip is something that can harm and even destroy relationships. Words are powerful. Once words are spoken, they hang in the air and make their way to the ears of others; they can never be “unspoken.”Gossip is a Destructive Social Activity; Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Source: Wikimedia Commons

Communication carries a great responsibility. Regardless of what motivates people to gossip, the results are seldom positive. Many people engage in gossip believing it is simply “chatting with friends.”  Gossip is much more than idle or friendly chatter.  The dictionary defines the term as:[2]

1.a: dialect British : godparent 
b : companion, crony
c : a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others
2.a : rumor or report of an intimate nature
b : a chatty talk
c : the subject matter of gossip  

The word comes from the old English godsibb meaning godparent and in the 16th century began to mean a person (a woman in particular) who delights in idle talk; also referred to as a newsmonger or a tattler.[1]   It wasn’t until the 19th century, the term extended to the conversation of such people.[1]

Talking or Gossip?; Source Microsoft OfficeCredit: Source Microsoft OfficeThe term was used as a verb for the first time in Shakespeare.  It originated from childbirth in the bedroom.  At the time, this was considered a social, ladies only, event.  There was an abundance of chatter and this is where the term came to mean “talk of others.”[1]

What leads people to engage in gossip? Five conditions are commonly behind the practice. Some people have more than one condition; they vacillate between two or more while others gossip from one base condition.

The Five Conditions Behind Gossip

Pride and self-importance.  People with this condition like to be “in the know.”  They want to know everything about everybody and what’s going on in the lives of others.  Talking about others helps them feel more important and it does not matter if that knowledge comes at the expense of others.

Low self-esteem. People who feel inadequate or insecure use gossip as a way of making them feel more superior.  This is a temporary "fix" to their problem.  Like an addict, they must continue to engage in the practice to acquire that feeling.

Need for acceptance.  This condition is most likely the main reason people engage in the practice.  Few people leave a room or take a stand against gossip when others are engaging in it. Staying and participating ensures one is not the next topic of conversation and can help give a feeling of acceptance and belonging.

Telling Secrets can be Gossip: Source: Microsoft OfficeCredit: Source: Microsoft OfficeJealousy. People elevate themselves by criticizing the abilities, relationships, choices, and possessions of others. People cut others down simply because others have what they want. When people criticize others, they signal they could do it better which elevates them and demeans the people they are demeaning.

Malice. This condition is the most destructive.  The sole purpose of malicious gossip is to destroy or discredit someone with accusations and slander. Revenge is the motivating factor of this type of gossip.

“Loose Lips Sink Ships”: The Consequences

Idle gossip almost always produces negative results. The victim is the most obvious person who suffers from scuttlebutt. Rumors and slander can cause painful and embarrassing moments for the victims.  Reputations can be destroyed, families and other relationships torn apart and positive opportunities ruined. Even false information can create havoc in a victim’s life.

Gossip; Source:  Microsoft OfficeCredit: Source: Microsoft OfficeConsequences also come to the one who rumormongers. They may not be as obvious, but they are serious and far-reaching.  People who attach someone else’s character end up losing their own integrity.  Because gossip fuels self-righteousness and pride, gossipers often become judgmental and do not see their own faults.  Healthy relationships with others can become limited for the gossiper as others will see them as untrustworthy.

People who listen to the rumor mill are affected but often do not even realize it until much later. Words are influential and few people can listen to the rumors and not be influenced in their perceptions or attitudes towards those victims of gossip.  The more people listen to the scuttlebutt, the more likely they will engage in passing on the gossip.On the Phone Gossip; Source: Microsoft OfficeCredit: Source: Microsoft Office

Gossip, even about celebrities which is so prevalent in today’s society, affects many people. It is often easy to feel talk about a celebrity is harmless because the chances of meeting that person are minimal.  However, rumors and slander hurt everyone involved, regardless of status in the community or society; regardless of economic status; regardless of age, race, ethnicity, or background.  Gossip is destructive and serves little positive purpose.


The copyright of the article Top Conditions Behind Gossip is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit
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