MUNDANE MYSTERIES: What’s The “Scuttlebutt”?

As we get ready to celebrate the holidays, you might be around friends & family (please be safe). And, if/when you are, you might want to share the latest “scuttlebutt”. But, have you ever wondered what that exactly is, and why we want to hear it?

When we make conversation, we use a variety of different prompts. You might ask how someone is doing, what’s happening, or if they’ve been anywhere or done anything interesting lately. And, sometimes, you might ask them what the latest scuttlebutt is. “What’s the scuttlebutt?” you might say, and then they’d spill the tea on that requested scuttlebutt.

The word “scuttlebutt” is clearly a slang term for information or gossip. But, what exactly is a scuttlebutt & how did it become associated with idle chatter?

According to Merriam-Webster, 1800s sailing ships carried scuttlebutts, or casks of drinking water, for those on board. Scuttlebutt was later used as the name for drinking fountains on ships or within Naval installations. The barrel was known as a “butt”, while “scuttle” came from the French word escoutilles, which means “hatch” or “hole”. A scuttlebutt was therefore a hatch on the barrel.

Since sailors usually received orders from shouting supervisors, talking amongst themselves was discouraged. But, because sailors could congregate around the water fountain, it became a place to finally catch up & exchange the latest news & gossip, which made scuttlebutt synonymous with casual conversation. For sailors, at the scuttlebutt was really the only place to do it.

Technological advances ultimately rendered the scuttlebutt obsolete, but the term, itself, endured, and eventually became a catch-all word for baseless rumors.

So, the next time someone asks you what the scuttlebutt is, now you can tell them. Just remember…the scuttlebutt could be about you, if you’re not careful.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via social media (@AndyWebbRadioVoice), or shoot me an email at [email protected]!