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September 9, 2001 - Gossip - 2002-01-30

AA: This is Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- did you hear? We're going to talk about gossip!

RS: Idle talk, chatty talk, rumors or facts of an intimate nature -- these are some dictionary definitions for what Americans mean by "gossip."

AA: In British English, a "gossip" is a godparent -- someone to look after you. That meaning goes all the way back to Old English. In America, though, a "gossip" might look after you -- but only to learn some juicy tidbit to tell others!

RS: This past week, a new group launched an effort to reduce what it calls "gossip and verbal violence" in America. To quote its press release: "The goal of the campaign is to promote the value and practice of ethical speech in order to improve our democracy [and] build mutual respect, honor and dignity in our country."

AA: The non-profit group is called Words Can Heal-dot-org -- that's also its Web address -- and grew out of Aish HaTorah, an international Jewish educational organization. The campaign, led by two Orthodox rabbis, is supported by a number of politicians and Hollywood stars.

RS: President Bush is expected to endorse the campaign as well. Words Can Heal-dot-org did a national poll on gossip, and co-executive director Irwin Katsof discussed the findings with VOA's Barbara Schoetzau:


KATSOF: "Over 80 percent of the American people say they are affected by gossip in the workplace. Over 84 percent of the American people say it's affected things in politics and there's too much of it in the media."

SCHOETZAU: "Do you think there's a particular outbreak of gossip going on? Have we just become so attuned to it in recent years, or what?"

KATSOF: "You know, people like to think that with all the telecommunications devices that we have today that we're communicating so much better, but the truth is that we really are not communicating any better. Gossip has been there for a long time and it's still there and it's even more prevalent. is a national effort to really try and sensitize the American people to this. Our major focus is asking people to take the Words Can Heal pledge. ... (Audio montage from TV commercial:)

"I pledge to think more about the words I use. ... I will try to see how gossip hurts people including myself and work to eliminate it from my life ... I will try to replace words that hurt with words that encourage, engage and enrich. ... I will not become discouraged when I am unable to choose words perfectly ... because making the world a better place is hard work.. I am pledging to do that one word at a time."

AA: The campaign started with TV spots in the Washington area, although gossip and harsh words are hardly limited to the nation's capital.

RS: Searching the Internet, we found a sermon given in May by Lori Sawdon, senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of Merced, in the Central Valley of California. The title? "Taming the Tongue."


"Yes, definitely words can heal and we probably need to speak those healing words more frequently in our society: 'I'm sorry' and 'thank you' and words of affirmation. Usually I try to find something that someone has done well and affirm them for it, and so say specifically: 'That was a wonderful paper that you wrote' or 'you spoke very eloquently when you said that at the meeting the other day' or 'you've done a fine job in putting this committee together.'"

AA: Pastor Lori, as she calls herself, says gossip has become, in her words, "a standard in American society."


"We have lost some of our standards about language and etiquette and what's appropriate and what's not, and so we tend to fall into gossip very easily in talking about other people and spreading information without really thinking."

RS: In her sermon, she encouraged members of her congregation to use words to build people up, not tear them down.

AA: And she passed along three guidelines to help them think through if something is worth saying:


"Those three guidelines were: Is it true? Is it kind? And is it necessary?"

RS: To tame gossip takes time, but Pastor Lori Sawdon, looks on the bright side.


"My experience is that in speaking positively about people and creating a positive environment, that it leaves little room for negative criticism or gossip or critique."

AA: Now, if you have a critique for us -- we hope it's nice! -- or if you have a question about American English, send it our way.

RS: Our address is VOA Wordmaster, Washington, DC two-zero-two-three-seven USA or With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "Men Gossip Too"/E.C. Scott