To hear something “through the grapevine” is to learn something informally by means of gossip and rumor. The usual implication is that the information is passed from one person to the next by word of mouth amongst friends and colleagues. So we know what it means, but where the heck is it from?
I found several origins of the well known phrase. I decided to succinctly mention all of them starting with my favorite.
• Stems & Tendrils – Often garbling the facts or reporting untruths, but likewise capable of transmitting vital messages quickly over distances using multiple people, so reflecting the gnarled and contorted stems, and the coiling tendrils of the grapevine.
• Grapevine Telegraph – The term originated in the USA, shortly after the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century (Samuel Morse, May 24th 1844). The system required miles and miles of wire attached to poles, carefully placed at regular intervals. People thought the wires and poles looked a lot like the strings placed along the rows of a vineyard, used to train the vine, hence the nickname.
• Word of Mouth – Back when smart phones and “texting” did not exist, people had to rely on their vocal cords to communicate… it’s true. The term would often refer to communications taking place in the rural community where laborers would pass along messages from one end of the field to the other, and interactions amongst people who could be expected to be found amongst grapevines.
How do I know this? A little bird told me, though the information may still be a rumor ; )
Wine was not always consumed by the masses like it is now. Only the elites and religious leaders would mostly have access to this “divine” elixir. It also didn’t taste like it does now. After years of diligent and exciting research, scientists and archeologists have been able to unravel the wine content based on remains found on old pottery shards. Remnants of gypsum, lime, marble dust, myrrh, and in some cases lead was added to the wine to help delay spoiling and avoid infections which cause them to become acid, malodorous and moldy. Needless to say, many ancient wines would taste quite unpleasant to today’s palates.
Men and women in ancient worlds had an extremely different conception of wine as we do today. When they drank it, they weren’t just consuming a beverage. Rather, they were drinking something they considered magical and divine. Wine was respected more for its power than for its taste.
Wine was once used to purify water, offered to the gods (by way of kings, queens and clergy who served as representatives and agents of gods), and also considered a promise for happiness in the afterlife.
Wine created (and still does) a sense of happiness and euphoria, and was often consumed in great quantity. Just like today, warnings against excessive consumption could be found in many cultures. An old Hebrew proverb declared that wine “bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.” In today’s world, this would compare to the lovely government warnings we love to hate.
“Do not get drunk often, lest you go mad.” – Old Egyptian proverb used as a warning against excessive wine consumption (enjoy more memorable wine quotes here.)