To hear something through the grapevine or on the grapevine is to learn about something via an informal source or hearsay, from another person; it may refer to an overheard conversation or anonymous sources of information. An Australian term used in rural Australia for the spreading of news or gossip through informal networks is the bush telegraph.
One explanation for through or on the grapevine says that the phrase is based on the appearance of the thousands of kilometres of telegraph wire installed across the US during the 19th century, strung together by telegraph poles, which resembled the strings used to train grapevines. Rumours were frequently spread using the telegraph system during the American Civil War.
Often the slaves got knowledge of the results of great battles before the white people received it. This news was usually received from the coloured man who was sent to the post office for the mail... The man who was sent to the post office would linger about the place long enough to get the drift of the conversation from the group of white people who naturally congregated there, after receiving their mail, to discuss the latest news. The mail carrier on his way back to our master's house would as naturally retell the news that he had secured among the slaves, and in this way they often heard of important events before the white people at the 'big house,' as the master's house was called.
The New York Public Library contends that the phrase derives from the infamous Grapevine Tavern in New York City's Greenwich Village. During the Civil War it "...was a popular hangout of Union officers and Confederate spies... It was the ideal place to get news and information, or in the case of spies and politicians, the ideal place to spread rumors and gossip, leading to the popular phrase 'heard it through the grapevine'".
In popular culture
- Bowen, Tim (3 July 2006). "Phrase of the week: I heard it through the grapevine". Onestopenglish. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
- Village Landmarks - The Old Grapevine Tavern New York Public Library
- Republic of Dreams: Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910-1960, Ross Wetzsteon, Simon & Schuster, 2002
- Clegg, Stewart R., et al. The SAGE Handbook of Organization Studies. SAGE Publications, 2006.
- "Heard It Through the Grapevine". (February 10, 1997). Forbes, pp. 22
- Mishra, Jitendra (1990). "Managing the Grapevine". Excerpts from... Managing the grapevine. Public Personal Management.
- Papa, Michael J., Tom D. Daniels and Barry K. Spiker. Organizational Communication: Perspective and Trends. SAGE Publications, 2008.
- Porterfield, Donald F. "Organizational Communication Developments from 1960 to the Present." The Journal of Business Communication (n.d.): 18-23.
- Robbins, Stephen; Essentials of Organizational Behavior (8th ed.) New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-144571-5.
- Rogelberd, Steven G.; "Encyclopedia of Industrial and Organizational Psychology"; SAGE Publications, 2007: 556-557
- Spillan, John E., Mary Mino and M. Susan Rowles. "Sharing Organizational Messages Through Effective Lateral Communication." Qualitative Research Reports in Communication (2002): 96-104.