Posted by ESC on February 20, 2003

In Reply to: Grape-Vine posted by James Briggs on February 19, 2003

: : Any idea as to how "grape-vine" came to be used figuratively to mean "an informal person-to-person means of circulating information or gossip", i. e., who first used it thusly? Thanks in advance for any information.

: This is another with an origin in the USA. In the early days of telegraphy, companies rushed to put up telegraph poles, some made none too well and some actually using trees rather than poles. To some, the tangled wires resembled the wild vines found in California, hence a Grapevine. During the US Civil War the telegraph was used extensively, but the messages were sometime unreliable, hence the association of rumour on the grapevine. The phrase first appeared in print in 1852.

: If you use the Search Box at the top I think there are other offerings - and possibly opinions.

This reference agrees with you. ".grapevines were associated with telegraph lines somewhere along the line, for by the time of the Civil war a report by 'grapevine telegraph' was common slang for a rumor. The idea behind the expression is probably not rumors sent over real telegraph lines, but the telegraphic speed with which rumor mongers can transmit canards with their own rude mouth-to-mouth telegraph system." From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

That last part sounds like Mr. Hendrickson has had bitter experience with gossips.