I love a good gossip – life’s twists and turns intrigue and titillate

By Hannah Jane Parkinson
Four sets of wind-up chattering teeth, one of which has laughed so hard he fell over
‘My favourite type is the secondhand relaying of amusing anecdotes.’ Photograph: Paul Hurrell/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Gossip has a poor reputation (have you heard?). But I am going to argue in favour of this pastime, first coined by – who else? – Shakespeare.

Yet another victim of the social quicksand of the pandemic, which has dissolved the kind of commonplace interactions we now realise we took for granted, harmless gossip is a glorious tool of bonding. It’s not only me who thinks this. Prof Robin Dunbar, whom I trust implicitly not only because he heads up a fancily named department at Oxford, but because he is a fellow Liverpudlian, is of the same opinion.

Gossip might be better if one is connected, however tangentially, to interesting and eminent people. But gossiping is an equal opportunities pursuit – as twitching curtains in suburban neighbourhoods and sidebar private messages between PTA members can attest.

It isn’t malicious tattling that I enjoy – though I did laugh the other day at someone saying they will spend 45 minutes explaining a detailed backstory about a situation to their uninterested boyfriend in order to “talk shit about someone for two minutes” – but there is no doubt that the surprising twists and turns of life intrigue and titillate. Historical ones, too – which is why the published diaries of literary luminaries thrill. And as I write this, football fans are buzzing at rumours ahead of transfer deadline day.

My favourite type of gossip, however, is the secondhand relaying of amusing anecdotes, which owe as much to the skills of an interlocutor as to how amusing the anecdote. Or hearing about the blooming relationships or bitter feuds between Westminster politicians which hit the headlines months later.

I don’t count sniping on forums as gossip, nor the calculated seeding of untruths to damage an individual; that’s just bullying. Women are often derogatorily referred to as gossips, but in fact, as we have seen with #MeToo, gossip has played an important part in women warning others of known predators.

Gossip, therefore, can have a protective and informative element as well as being a way to relieve idle boredom or establish friendships. Mostly, though, it’s the natter over a cup of tea and the exchanging of intel – eliciting a “No?!”, a “Really?!”, an “Oh my God!” – that’s an afternoon well spent.

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