Me Like Words
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
 
The Grapevine
Gossip spread by spoken communication

We've all heard the phrase, "heard it through the grapevine." It's almost impossible to say without humming along to Marvin Gaye's catchy tune about a cheating woman. But the term is far older than Mr. Gaye. It originated in New York City back in the 1820's and, yes, it does have something to do with an actual grapevine (although not the magic kind that can tell you secrets).

In the 1700's a roadhouse was erected at West 11th Street and 6th Ave (for you out-of-towners, that's the corner where 11th Street intersects with 6th Ave). The house was named the Old Grapevine in homage to the large vine that grew across its facade. By the 1820's, as development moved north, the Old Grapevine became a popular saloon frequented by actors, poets and bohemians. Because the place attracted so many people involved in similar pursuits, news and gossip were disseminated amongst the regulars with lightening speed. The customers started referring to this means of obtaining information as "hearing it on the grapevine." The term stuck and was carried by soldiers into the Civil War during which it was spread all over the country. I heard the rest is history.

As for the Old Grapevine tavern, it stood in the same spot until it was torn down in 1914. Curiously, when the building was demolished, articles published about it made no reference to it as the birthplace of the famous phrase.

Amazing! New York once had trees!
 
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I (me) like words. And even more than liking words I like to know where they come from and how they ended up in my mouth. It's called 'Etymology,' and I hope you like words as much as me do. If you have a word or phrase you've been pondering send it to me at Streeter@StreeterSeidell.com with 'Me Like Words' as the subject.

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Location: New York City, New York, United States
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