October 07, 2015 12:22 UTC

Words and Their Stories: Grapevine

We try to answer the question; Who told you that? | WORDS AND THEIR STORIES

Words and Their Stories: Grapevine
Words and Their Stories: Grapevine


Play or download an MP3 of this story

Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

Some of the most exciting information comes by way of the grapevine.

That is so because reports received through the grapevine are supposed to be secret. The information is all hush hush. It is whispered into your ear with the understanding that you will not pass it on to others.

You feel honored and excited. You are one of the special few to get this information. You cannot wait. You must quickly find other ears to pour the information into. And so, the information - secret as it is – begins to spread. Nobody knows how far.

The expression by the grapevine is more than one hundred years old.

The American inventor, Samuel F. Morse, is largely responsible for the birth of the expression. Among others, he experimented with the idea of telegraphy – sending messages over a wire by electricity. When Morse finally completed his telegraphic instrument, he went before Congress to show that it worked. He sent a message over a wire from Washington to Baltimore. The message was: “What hath God wrought?” This was on May twenty-fourth, eighteen forty-four.

Quickly, companies began to build telegraph lines from one place to another. Men everywhere seemed to be putting up poles with strings of wire for carrying telegraphic messages. The workmanship was poor. And the wires were not put up straight.

Some of the results looked strange. People said they looked like a grapevine. A large number of the telegraph lines were going in all directions, as crooked as the vines that grapes grow on. So was born the expression, by the grapevine.

Some writers believe that the phrase would soon have disappeared were it not for the American Civil War.

Soon after the war began in eighteen sixty-one, military commanders started to send battlefield reports by telegraph.  People began hearing the phrase by the grapevine to describe false as well as true reports from the battlefield.  It was like a game.  Was it true? Who says so?

Now, as in those far-off Civil War days, getting information by the grapevine remains something of a game. A friend brings you a bit of strange news. “No,” you say, “it just can’t be true! Who told you?” Comes the answer, “I got it by the grapevine.”

You really cannot know how much – if any – of the information that comes to you by the grapevine is true or false. Still, in the words of an old American saying, the person who keeps pulling the grapevine shakes down at least a few grapes.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Audio Nations React to Pacific Trade Agreements

    Nations are reacting to the Asia-Pacific free trade agreement reached by the United States and 11 nations in the area. The agreement has taken years to negotiate. President Obama has voiced strong support for the measure while U.S. lawmakers have reacted cautiously to the complex agreement. More

  • US Afghanistan General Campbell

    Audio US Accepts Blame for Afghan Hospital Attack

    Army General John Campbell said American forces are responsible for "mistakenly" hitting a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. He told a congressional committee in Washington that Afghan forces requested the airstrike. The Afghan forces said Taliban fighters were firing from the hospital. More

  • The China Auto Show featured self-driving cars.

    Video Driver Lets Go of Wheel in New Truck

    The first self-driving semi-trailer truck began its first trip on a major European highway last week. The German automobile company Daimler made the vehicle, which is named Actros. It is perhaps the first mass-produced truck whose driver will only be required to watch the vehicle’s movements. More

  • Palestinians burn tires during Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, Oct. 6, 2015.

    Audio Israel Destroys Two Palestinian Homes

    Israel uses home teardowns as punishment for Palestinian uprising. Fear is growing that violence will worsen in the area.| As It Is More

  • Trade ministers from a dozen Pacific nations in Trans-Pacific Partnership Ministers meeting post in TPP Ministers "Family Photo" in Atlanta, Georgia, October 1, 2015.

    Audio Twelve Countries Reach Trans-Pacific Partnership Deal

    For the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal to take effect, the agreement needs approval from national legislatures in all 12 countries. Completion of the deal is a major foreign policy victory for U.S. President Barack Obama. However, U.S. congressional approval of the deal is not guaranteed. More

Featured Stories

  • Video Know Your Enemy

    Do you have an enemy? Hopefully, you don’t. An enemy is someone who hates you and you hate them back. An enemy threatens you, attacks you or tries to harm you. In some languages, there are different words for a personal enemy versus an enemy of war, political enemy or enemy of the state. More

  • Audio Everyday Grammar: Comparatives and Superlatives

    When we want to compare things we use comparative and superlative forms. Find out some of rules and exceptions of these important forms in Everyday Grammar for this week. More

  • Video ‘The Martian’ Mixes Science, Science Fiction

    Hollywood's latest space operation gone wrong movie stars Matt Damon as an astronaut mistakenly left on Mars. The film is a hit with movie critics. But what do science critics think? More

  • The Open Boat by Stephen Crane, Part 2

    Video The Open Boat by Stephen Crane, Part Two

    We continue the story of “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane. As we told you last week, the story is based on true events. In eighteen ninety-six, Crane was traveling to Cuba as a news reporter. On his way there, his ship sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Crane climbed into the last remaining lifeboat. More

  • Audio Great Barrier Reef Choking on Pollutants

    The Great Barrier Reef is off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia. It is the largest living organism on Earth. However, the reef is being damaged by climate change and pollutants from farms that flow into the reef. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner
Confessions of an English Learner blog

Tell us About Our Programs