What Does Heard It Through the Grapevine Mean?

Heard It Through the Grapevine Meaning

Definition: Hear something through unofficial means, often through word-of-mouth gossip.

This idiom is a popular expression used throughout the English-speaking world to refer to unsubstantiated information that is passed between people who are not directly in connection with the source. The information may be true or may just be a rumor; the important thing is that the source is not necessarily verified and the information cannot be relied upon as being accurate.

Often, while the information may have started as true, it changes as each person recalls only bits of the original story, or adds their own opinion to it.

Origin of Heard It Through the Grapevine

heard it through the grapevine originThe term ‘grapevine telegraph’ was first published in an 1852 American dictionary to refer to the wires of a telegraph that appeared to be the coiled tendrils of a grapevine.

In California, the wires were actually hung on trees, which strengthened its visual similarity. There is a reference to this as early as 1876 in The Reno Evening Gazette:

  • “It would seem that the Indians have some mysterious means of conveying the news, like the famous grapevine telegraph of the negroes in the [American Civil] War.”

The term’s popularity increased tenfold during the American Civil War a decade later, and people started referring to “hearing things through the grapevine” to express their uncertainty at the verity of a story that had been passed through the telegraph lines.

Grapevines also carry the connotation of rural poverty, and could thus indicate mouth-to-mouth gossip between people who couldn’t afford more sophisticated technology.

Examples of Heard It Through the Grapevine

to hear through the grapevineToday, the phrase most commonly brings to mind the popular Motown song of the same name, first recorded by Gladys Knight & the Pips and later by Marvin Gaye in 1967 and 1968 respectively.

Perhaps the phrase is not used so much colloquially because we no longer wait for information to pass through a line of people, but receive it instantly online.

Regardless, the phrase is widely understood and often used as a lead-in to get more information, as in, “I heard through the grapevine that you got a new job; how’s it going?” or “We heard through the grapevine that you were expecting; what’s his name?”

More Examples

  • Although he did not receive any direct complaints, he heard some grumbling ‘through the grapevine’ about the sign. –TimesUnion
  • “I heard through the grapevine that she had an interest in coaching,” said Luca Passarelli, Neshannock’s principal. “I remember when she played here. She was formidable and fierce.” –Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Summary

To hear something through the grapevine is to hear unconfirmed information that has been verbally passed between people who may be unaware of the origin.

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