Hearing it Through the Grapevine: Turn of the Century Gossip

I Heard it through the grapevine. As you probably know, aside from being the title of a pretty kickass Motown song, it means hearing something via the gossip circuit. Well, here’s why we say it:

Back in the day, long distance communication was done via telegraph- you know, that little tappy thing on the Titanic that sent SOS over the radio & all that. Anyway, before the telegraph went wireless, the electric dots & dashes were transmitted through gigantic wrapped telegraph wires. Most people believed that these cables resembled grapevines because of the thickness & the way they were almost haphazardly strung up on the poles.

Any major city would’ve been jam-packed with these:


What does this have to do with gossip, though? Well, that’s also pretty easy to explain away.
Because telegraph messages, or telegrams, were pretty expensive to send, aside from newspapers, the most common people to send them were rich people.

Now, upper class Americans didn’t have much else to do back then than gossip with each other. How do you tell a rich friend from New England about something you saw the Turn of the Century version of Kim Kardashian do out in California at lightning speed? You send a telegram.

If gossip wasn’t heard through word of mouth, it was heard through the telegraph lines, or “grapevines.”

How little things change. Another meaningless mystery solved. You’re welcome.

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