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Phrases and idioms – I heard it through the grapevine.

Sep 6, 2021


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Phrases and idioms with Live and Learn.

Hi, I’m Phil from Live and Learn Krefeld.

With today’s phrase, there is a rumour going around and everybody is gossiping about it?

But what could it be? The expression is: I heard it through the grapevine. Yes, I know: you’re probably thinking about Motown legends like Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips who turned this phrase into a chart topping hit in the late 1960s. But what does the expression mean and where does it come from? Well this phrase is used when we ‘unofficially’ hear a piece of news or gossip from a friend or colleague before we hear the official announcement. But where does this quaint little phrase come from?

To find out the etymology (this is the origin of the word) we have to go back in time to the American Civil War. The soldiers communicated by means of telegraph, which they used to send messages in “Morse code”. However, as there was no Internet connectivity back then, they needed to connect these devices using wires. These wires were strung from trees. People observed that the wires resembled grapevines and thus the phrase “grapevine” was coined. If you were asked about the origins of a message, the reply would be: “I heard it on/through the grapevine.”

There is also a second story relating to the origins of the expression. This story also heralds from American Civil War and concerns the Grapevine Tavern in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Apparently this was a popular for spies to eaves drop on what the generals had to say; it could also have been the ideal location for spreading false rumours.

Remember, spreading false rumours you have read on the Internet could have consequences, so always fact check before posting anything.

Whatever the truth may be, we have been using the idiom “heard it on the grapevine” for many years now. We will be using it in the future too.