Idiom: Through/On the grapevine
OED definition: Used to refer to the circulation of rumours and unofficial information
Example: I heard on the grapevine that they are getting married
In 1884, Samuel Morse gave the first public demonstration of the telegraph (sending and receiving messages without physically exchanging and object with a message. For example, Smoke Signals are an example of telegraph, whereas a letter is not). During his demonstration, Morse sent a message from Washington to Baltimore over a distance of around 70km. Before this, long-distance communication was very limited therefore the invention of the telegraph was welcomed with open arms as an effective way of communicating quickly. Soon after this, in 1852, the term ‘grapevine telegraph’ was coined to refer to the type of communication that existed within communities (as opposed to between different communities separated by large distances) and consisted of information being passed from person to person by word-of-mouth. These types of grapevine telegraph interactions were most likely to occur between people in the poor, rural societies, those who were most likely to be in the fields and vineyards.
In Australia a similar concept of the ‘bush telegraph’ developed, which referred to the network through which information about police movements was passed from convict to convict hiding in the bush.
In the UK the ‘jungle telegraph’ referred to the communications in outposts of the British Empire at around the same time.
Although the bush and jungle telegraph are rarely heard of nowadays, the idea of the grapevine telegraph is still very familiar today, especially amongst the smaller, more rural towns and villages, where gossip is often rife. This idiom was also made famous by Marvin Gaye’s Motown classic, ‘Heard it through the grapevine’, an extremely catchy song which can be heard here.