In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros


The Story Behind the News

In 1884, a pharmaceutical firm combined oid, "resembling" and tablet, creating a concentrated drug called a tabloid. The word soon became synonymous with "a compressed or concentrated dose of anything."

There being nothing more compressed than the news, it begat tabloid journalism — made up of sensationalism and gossip. Prior to 1300, gossip was a "grandparent" or a "familiar acquaintance," from the Old English god, "God' + sib, "relative." By the 16th century, it extended to "anyone engaged in familiar or idle talk;" by 1627, as a verb, "to talk idly," mostly about other people's affairs; and finally, as a noun about 1811, as "groundless rumors" or "trifling talk about others."

The master of gossip was radio newsman Walter Winchell (1892-1972) who began each broadcast with "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. North (and South) America and all the ships at sea — let's go to press." The sensational occurred in 1939 when Louis Lepke Buchalter, the head of Murder, Inc., surrendered directly to Winchell.

Sensational newspapers and books yellow(ed) in 1846 from their cheap covering, becoming yellow journalism in 1898, a consequence of the lurid stories of Spanish atrocities in Cuba by Hearst's New York Journal and the New York World of Joseph Pulitzer whose name now stands for excellence in the profession. As to gossip, it has since has become the coin of the media realm.