Gossip is idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.
While gossip forms one of the oldest and most common means of spreading and sharing facts and views, it also has a reputation for the introduction of errors and other variations into the information thus transmitted. The term also carries implications that the news so transmitted (usually) has a personal or trivial nature. Compare conversation.
Some people commonly understand gossip as meaning the spreading of dirt and misinformation, as (for example) through excited discussion of scandals. Some newspapers carry "gossip columns" which detail the social and personal lives of celebrities or of élite members of certain communities.
Researchers studying computer networks and distributed computing have recently begun to develop software based on what they term gossip protocols. These mimic social networks as a way to carry out distributed computing tasks that can be hard to solve in other ways. (The term epidemic protocol is also used in this context.)
Gossip can serve to:
Turner and Weed theorize that among the three main types of responders to workplace conflict are attackers who cannot keep their feelings to themselves and express their feelings by attacking whatever they can. Attackers are further divided into up-front attackers and behind-the-back attackers. Turner and Weed note that the latter "are difficult to handle because the target person is not sure of the source of any criticism, nor even always sure that there is criticism.
It is possible however, that there may be illegal, unethical, or disobedient behavior happening at the workplace and this may be a case where reporting the behavior may be viewed as gossip. It is then left up to the authority in charge to fully investigate the matter and not simply look past the report and assume it to be workplace gossip. All illegal, unethical, or disobedient behavior that is reported to the appropriate personal should be taken seriously until otherwise proven innocent.
Informal networks through which communication occurs in an organization are sometimes called the grapevine.
Some people view gossip as a lighthearted way of spreading information.
In a more sinister interpretation, restrictions on gossip could potentially paralyse the free flow of information and enforce straight-jacketed thinking and censorship in a community. The term "gossip" typically labels discussion the speaker disapproves of ("I discuss, you speculate, he gossips"). Compare freedom of speech.
A feminist definition of gossip presents it as "a way of talking between women, intimate in style, personal and domestic in scope and setting, a female cultural event which springs from and perpetuates the restrictions of the female role, but also gives the comfort of validation." (Jones, 1990:243)
In Early Modern England the word "gossip" referred to companions in childbirth, not limited to the midwife. It also became a term for women-friends generally, with no necessary derogatory connotations. (OED n. definition 2. a. "A familiar acquaintance, friend, chum", supported by references from 1361 to 1873). It commonly referred to an informal local sorority or social group, who could enforce socially-acceptable behaviour through private censure or through public rituals, such as "rough music" and the skimmington ride. The literature of the period has many references to this, some of them doubtless fictional. In addition, legal records document actions taken by women themselves in the civil courts, and by the church in church courts.
These include accounts of the rituals that shamed or celebrated women’s sexuality: women washing a neighbour’s private parts with soap and water, or ‘polling’ pubic hair. In Thomas Harman’s Caveat for Common Cursitors 1566 a ‘walking mort’ relates how she was forced to agree to meet a man in his barn, but informed his wife. The wife arrived with her “five furious, sturdy, muffled gossips” who catch the errant husband with “his hosen about his legs” and give him a sound beating. The story clearly functions as a morality tale in which the gossips uphold the social order.
Judaism considers gossip spoken without a constructive purpose (known in Hebrew as lashon hara) as a sin. Speaking negatively about people, even if retelling true facts, counts as sinful, as it demeans the dignity of man — both the speaker and the subject of the gossip.
According to Proverbs 18:8: "The words of a gossip are like choice morsels: they go down to a man's innermost parts."
Islam considers backbiting the equivalent of eating the flesh of one's dead brother. According to Muslims, backbiting harms its victims without offering them any chance of defence, just as dead people cannot defend against their flesh being eaten. Muslims are expected to treat each other like brothers, deriving from Islam's concept of brotherhood amongst its believers.
Christianity condemns all kinds of gossip. The Epistle to the Romans associates gossips ("backbiters") with a list of sins including sexual immorality and with murder:
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Romans 1:28-32)
Jesus also commanded, in Matthew 18, that conflict resolution among church members begin with the aggrieved party attempting to resolve their dispute with the offending party alone. Only if this did not work would the process escalate to the next step, in which other church members would become involved. In no case did Jesus authorize complaining to another church member without having confronted the offender first.
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