Credit Jessica Northridge

I heard from a friend of a friend

By Alexandra Agar

The salacious history of gossip

The highly anticipated ‘morning-after-debrief’, a simple pint with friends or perhaps in the smoking area outside of a club, you’re all hanging out together when somebody says: ‘guess what somebody told me…’. Everybody leans in as phones are put away, receipts (often in the form of text screenshots) are shown, and strangers nearby end their conversations to listen in to yours. I can’t pretend I’m any better, because truthfully, I’m not. Whether it’s about a new relationship development, a he-said-she-said, or a scandalous story, research has shown that gossip is addictive, providing our brains with serotonin and dopamine.

Originally used as a method of communication to reduce conflict and bring people closer together, the term ‘gossip’ meant ‘sponsor at baptism/godparent’, referring to women who supported other women during childbirth. Since then, the term ‘gossip’ has taken a slightly different form, and is instead more commonly used to refer to women who engage in conversation about others privately. Often when women gossip, it is stigmatised, viewed as something that should be discouraged. There is perhaps some merit to this, as there is a tendency for many to use gossip as a more malicious tool to create and spread rumours, leading to those who are victims of gossip suffering from depression and anxiety.

However, advice in the form of gossip with the aim of informing decisions, helping a friend, or even warning a person of who should or should not be trusted has benefited people throughout history, especially women. Perhaps synonymous with the phrase ‘girls supporting girls’, gossip, usually based around somebody’s personal life or actions, can be utilised to share advice. Women have historically been discouraged from gossip as a strategy to silence them and prevent communication. The #metoo movement in 2017 in part came as a result of advice being shared through gossip, as women began talking openly about sexual abusers with other women, providing them with the reassurance and solidarity to be able to publicise their experiences.

In turn, throughout smaller social circles, gossip has been utilised in a different manner. Whilst stories can be exaggerated and conflicting opinions heard, within the university bubble countless people have benefitted from participating in gossip. It could lead to revelations about a cheating partner, or maybe a friend or love interest with a history of threatening behaviour. Gossiping with the interest of informing and warning others is something that can’t be taken for granted, and is perhaps something to be encouraged when keeping others best interests at heart.

Gossip is what you make it. Whilst it can be used to pass around entertaining and scandalous stories of cheating or drunken mishaps, it should not be merely dubbed as a method of idle conversation. Instead, it should be used in a way to allow people to speak openly about those who they are associated with; not as a tool to spread rumours, but instead to inform, advise and benefit others. 


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