The New York Times:
GOSSIP. Almost all of us do it, most of us are embarrassed about it, and sometimes, to our horror, we get caught.
But not all gossip is bad, and, in fact, gossip can be useful in maintaining social norms and keeping people in line.
Maybe it sounds as if I’m just trying to rationalize the desire to sometimes spread a few juicy bits of information, but recent research looks at the good side of gossip.
First, the definition of gossip is fairly neutral. As Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford who has written widely about gossip, notes, the word gossip originally just meant chatting with one’s “godsibs,” or the peer equivalent of godparents — in other words, people you were particularly close to.
In more modern terms, Timothy Hallett, associate professor in the Indiana University sociology department, defined it as “the unsanctioned evaluative talk about people who aren’t present.”
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