Culture is constantly changing: the prevailing beliefs and trends of one period can vary substantially from those of another. A significant consequence of this cultural flux is gradual evolution in the meanings of some words. Since language is naturally tied to culture, it is not surprising that these changes occur. Words have meaning only in the context of the current social climate; therefore their definitions change synchronously with cultural progression. The meaning of the word gossip, for example, changed several times over, from its original definition of kindred relation to its present definition of empty talk. How did this progression take shape? As society adopted new trends and beliefs, the meaning of the word gossip changed from having religious connotations to having more social connotations.
The original meaning of the word gossip had strong religious undertones, implying that society and culture then were very religious-minded. Stemming from the Middle English roots "god" and "sib", the word gossip referred to a person who sponsored a baptism and shared a spiritual rapport with another. During this time period, Christianity was a newly emerging religion, and one of its most sacred rituals was baptism. It was also becoming an increasingly important part of society and culture. Undermining baptism, therefore, would have been an insult to the religion, but associating it with spirituality would have been an avowal of Christianity, a recognition of this new force in people's lives. Sponsorship of a baptism and spiritual affinity were connected primarily because religion was such a predominant force at the time.
However, the word gossip progressively lost its religious connot...
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... "talking about other people, even in a negative way, is not just socially useful but indispensable" (Cohen B7). Cohen's point emphasizes that the driving force behind this etymological evolution is often change in the social environment, particularly in the attitudes of the people using a certain word. Gossip in its original sense was probably used in ecclesiastical circles. As ordinary people started using the term more frequently, the word gossip started to lose its religious undercurrents and slowly gained social connotations. Used by women, the term's definition evolved to reflect an activity shared by many of them. Today, the word's derogatory sense may reflect increased cynicism among people. As Cohen points out, though, the meaning of the word gossip is likely to change, and this change hints at possible trends - and kinds of people - society will face next.
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