MUNDANE MYSTERIES: What Is “The Grapevine” and Why Do We Hear Things Through It?

Whenever someone’s sharing some juicy details with you about something of questionable veracity, but they want to try & be cagey about where they got their information, sometimes they’ll say they “heard it through the grapevine.” They might say, “I heard through the grapevine John & Sarah are getting divorced,” or, “I heard through the grapevine that that business is gonna have to shut down.” But what does “heard it through the grapevine” even mean?

There are a few possible notions as to where this particular phrase originated. It could possibly date back to the 1800s development of the telegraph system. To be able to send & receive messages, miles & miles of telegraph lines got hung on poles & intertwined throughout the country. Those lines resembled the ones used to manage grapevine growth, so people eventually began saying that they heard something “through the grapevine” as slang for the telegraph system. The saying grew in popularity amidst the Civil War, when communication through the telegraph “grapevine” became even more important. But it also became more questionable, as Confederate soldiers were well-known misinformation spreaders, as they attempted to confuse Union intelligence. Eventually, “heard it through the grapevine” came to mean any potentially questionable word-of-mouth information.

One another theory that exists for the phrase is that, in the late 19th & early 20th centuries, people would congregate at a tavern in New York City called The Old Grapevine. As with most bars, gossip & rumors flowed as freely as the alcohol there, so it would be entirely possible you’d likely hear something or another at The Grapevine. It clearly didn’t invent the phrase…but it probably helped popularize it.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Use the modern-day grapevine & email me:  [email protected].

BROUGHT TO YOU BY: Berryville Graphics