What Does “Heard It On The Grapevine” Mean? How To Use It

what does heard it on the grapevine mean

There are many expressions and phrases used in the English language, these phrases and expressions have evolved over the years, and now, they have definite meaning and usage. It is vital to understand everything about an expression to use it correctly.

The expression “heard it on the grapevine” means to hear something or acquire information through unofficial or informal sources, usually through gossip. When a person gets information about something unofficially, you say he heard it on the grapevine.

What Does “Heard It On The Grapevine” Mean?

Without having a comprehensive understanding of what a word, a phrase, or an expression means, you would end up misusing it, and you would not communicate effectively.

Every word, phrase, and expression has a context where it can be used; the meaning of the word, phrase, or expression defines the context it can be used. So, you need to understand the meaning first.

So, what does the expression “heard it on the grapevine” mean?

The expression “heard it on the grapevine” means learning something through rumors or gossip passed from one person to another. It means to gain knowledge of something from word of mouth.

Another meaning of the expression is to hear of something informally, so you cannot say the information is accurate or represents the truth. There is usually no official source of information acquired, so it is not always reliable.

You can also use the expression “heard it on the grapevine” to mean to gather information from unofficial sources or informal channels. Most times, information from informal channels have been circulated from one person to another, and with each person, there is a change in information.

woman gossiping at work

Bottom line, the expression “heard it on the grapevine” is an accurate way of saying to acquire information through rumors or gossip, which are termed unofficial and informal sources. 

There are other variations of the idiomatic expressions; these variations include “heard through the bush telegraph” (the Australian variation), “heard through the grapevine,” (the most prevalent variation), and “heard through the jungle telegraph” (the British variation).

What Is The Origin Of The Expression “Heard It On The Grapevine”?

There have been different claims on how the expression “heard it on the grapevine” came to be. 

One of the claims is that the expression results from the installation of telegraph poles and wires (a newly discovered technology) of thousands of kilometers in the United States in the 19th century. 

The telegraph poles were positioned in a regular pattern, and the wires strung between them looked like the strings and poles used to prune and grow grapes. Furthermore, during the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, the telegraph system was used to share and spread rumors and information.

Booker T. Washington wrote in his autobiography titled “Up From Slavery” of how the slaves in the southern part of the United States kept themselves updated on current events; they used the “grapevine telegraph.”

He explained that the slaves usually got the latest news of the battle before white people knew it. The mail was always received by a black man sent to the post office, and he would eventually stay around listening to the white people around discussing the latest news after receiving their mails. 

On getting back from picking the mail, the black man would tell the other blacks the latest news he heard, so the blacks usually heard the critical events and news before white people did.

There is another claim to the origin of the expression, the New York Public claims that the expression “heard it on the grapevine” came from a tavern (in Greenwich Village, a town in New York City) called Grapevine Tavern.

The Grapevine Tavern was a hangout spot for both Union (Southern) officers and Confederate (Northern) spies throughout the American Civil War. And it was the perfect place to get information and news; rumors and gossip were also spread there. And that is how the phrase “heard it through the grapevine” came to be used.

However, the expression “heard it on the grapevine” was made famous in the late 1960s when Gladys Knight and The Pips released a song named “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” In 1970, Marvin Gaye released a song with the same title, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”

The first time a citation containing the expression was published was 1852, by the Grape Vine Telegraph Line. And the long and short forms of the expression appeared in the quote sent.

How People Use The Expression “Heard It On The Grapevine”

The expression “heard it on the grapevine” is used when you hear a piece of information from a rumor spreading or from someone who heard it from another person.

You use the expression when talking about something or someone you heard from gossip or an unofficial announcement. For example, when you hear the news about someone named Tom in your office being fired from a co-worker who also heard it from another co-worker, you can say you “heard it on the grapevine” because the boss did not announce it.

When you get information from an anonymous source, you can say you “heard it on the grapevine” because you do not know who gave that information since there is no direct connection with the source. 

The expression “heard it on the grapevine” can be used to describe when you get a piece of information about something through a rumor or gossip spreading around. A piece of news heard informally is termed “heard it from the grapevine.”

When we want to use the expression “heard it from the grapevine” today, it would mean acquiring information or news from unreliable sources, e.g., through social media. 

It would be inappropriate terming social media as an informal source because we do not see our sources of information as either formal or informal. We cannot say a blog post or news article is more reliable and formal than information from Twitter or Facebook.

When you have a piece of information with no definite source and cannot be relied on, you can say the information was “heard on the grapevine” because it may be true or false. Until the information is gotten through an official announcement, it is termed “heard it on the grapevine.”

speechless woman news

Illustrative Examples Of How To Use The Idiomatic Expression

Next, we will discuss some illustrative examples that show how to use the idiomatic expression “heard it on the grapevine” correctly in a sentence and further clarify the meaning. 

  1. After almost twenty-five years of Jane being married with two children, she heard it on the grapevine that her husband Richard was back in town and unwilling to meet her.
  2. Edward was planning to marry Bella when he heard on the grapevine that Bella eloped with Jacob, and they have both traveled to another country; he became so upset and sad that he committed suicide. 
  3. I heard it on the grapevine that our company would be taken over by another, although the board of directors has not said anything. 
  4. My mom advised me never to spread any information I heard through the grapevine, as it could mislead many people, especially if it is false and not detailed.
  5. John wanted to audition for the lead role in the play, but when he heard on the grapevine that Peter had already auditioned for that role, he gave up because he felt Peter was better at acting than he is. 
  6. David heard it on the grapevine that his wife was cheating on him with his best friend; he refused to believe it until he eventually caught them together in his house, then he filed for a divorce.
  7. Victor is one of the most respected men in the community; however, his image was tarnished; it spread through the grapevine that he was fraudulent and involved in suspicious activities.
  8. June heard it on the grapevine that all her clients were abandoning her business and patronizing other businesses. She had to pay a visit to other companies to discover herself.
  9. I heard on the grapevine that my boss was promoting Jane, my co-worker, but I do not know anything else about it.
  10. The entire team heard it on the grapevine that the company would be restructuring and laying off some employees, but there has been no official statement.
  11. Although the Public Relations Officer received no direct complaints about the service offered, he heard it on the grapevine that there were some grumblings.

Final Thoughts

Learning new things can be exciting and fun, but applying what you have learned is way better than having fun. Idiomatic expressions and proverbs spice up your writings, and they make your writings exciting and to the point.

The idiomatic expression “Heard It On The Grapevine” was once common in the English language. However, with the evolution and advancement of the world, it is slowly fading out and may not be used anymore.

With a comprehensive understanding provided by this article of the idiom “Heard It On The Grapevine,” you should have no problems using it correctly in a sentence. Have fun using this expression in your writings.

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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