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[word-lover] Words and Their Stories 2009-02-22

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Now the VOA Special English Program, Words and Their Stories

Some of the most exciting information comes by the way of the grapevine. That is so because reports receive 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 honoured and excited. You are one of the special few to get this information. You can not wait. You must quickly find other ears to pull 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. That message was what have God wrought. This was on May 4th, 1844.

 

Quickly, company began to build telegraph lines from one place to other. Men everywhere seemed to be putting up poles with strings of wire for carrying telegraphic messages. The workmanship was poor. And wires were not put up straight. Some of the result looked strange. People said that they looked like a grapevine. A large number of the telegraph lines were going in all the directions as crooked as the vines that grapes grow on.

 

So was born the expression by the grapevine. Some writers believed that the phrase would soon be disappeared were not for the America Civil War. Soon after the war began in 1861, 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 battle field. 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 game. A friend rings 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 can not 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 American saying, the person who keeps pulling the grapevine shakes down at least a few grapes.

 

You have been listening to the VOA Special English program, Words and Their Stories. I’m Warren Scheer.

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