Over at the Globe and Mail I use WikiLeaks as a jumping off point for a larger discussion of the role of gossip. You can read my piece here.
Unlike most philosophers, the gossip cares about the humour and heartbreak of courtship, the transgression of social mores and the quirky perversity of people around us – the very things that the great fiction writers, from Jane Austen to Alice Munro, immortalize in their stories.
As Ms. Spacks notes, the word gossip originally meant “godparent.” We can trace the shifting shades of the word in Samuel Johnson’s great 18th-century dictionary: A gossip was both “one who answers for the child in baptism” and “one who runs about tattling like women at a lying-in.”
Godparents like to talk about their godchildren whether at a lying-in or later in life, so the two senses of the word are intimately connected. A gossip, like a godparent, is someone who is interested in our lives even if he or she has no biological ties to us.