The second quickest way to get my attention is to say, “I shouldn”t be telling you this, but ” (Note: this is second only to: “Don”t look now, but there”s an especially hairy tarantula crawling up the back of your shirt.” And it”s a close second.)

Paul Wong
Aubrey Henretty

Most people I know don”t like to use the word “gossip.” While disdain for the word transcends gender, I”ve noticed that males and females tend to dislike it for different reasons.

First, the guys: Guys see gossip as a woman”s domain: An activity suitable for 13-year-old girls at slumber parties, high school-age jezebels out to destroy the head cheerleader and nosy old ladies with nothing better to do than sit on their porches and watch the neighbors. But not suitable for men. Men, my male friends insist, do not gossip. They hang out. They chill. Sometimes, they even shoot the bull. But no gossiping. Gossip”s too girly. Too emasculating. It sounds too much like, “Do these pants make me look fat?”

Many of my female friends also scorn the term. They think “gossip” makes them sound like that heavily made-up, gum-snapping peroxide blond from every sitcom and bad movie in history the one that always bursts in at just the wrong time and shouts, “Oh my gawd! Have you heard?”

As part of my ongoing effort to obliterate stereotypes and improve human relationships, I feel it”s time to set the gossip record straight.

First of all, gossip is not a No Boys Allowed arena. I have guy friends who can (and often do) gossip me under the table. I”ve bonded with them over unhealthy food in the middle of the night and, believe me, they”re no less manly for it.

Secondly, most people don”t seem to know the differences between a “gossip” and “loudmouth.” There are several, but the biggest one is that loudmouths will tell your secret to any and everyone if left unchecked. If you threaten them with bodily harm, they will tell only one person. But it will be the person most likely to relay the information to the last person you want to know about it.

Gossips are slightly more considerate. True gossips know everyone”s six degrees by heart and will be tortured and maimed before blabbing to the wrong person. They know it”s safe to share family gossip with their roommates (unless their roommates are loudmouths), roommate gossip with their co-workers, co-worker gossip with their families and so on. Also, gossips won”t tell just anybody just anything. They understand that some stories are too personal to repeat.

Another difference is that loudmouths are only in it for the scandal. They are not interested in your personal life until you do something that will elicit horror and/or incredulity from everyone they”re planning to tell. On the contrary, gossips are in it for the details they appreciate the drama in every situation. Consequently, people tend to avoid loudmouths and seek out gossips when they have juicy stories to share.

As an avid gossip, I know this to be true. I also know that “I shouldn”t be telling you this, but ” is actually three different statements, depending upon which word is italicized. “I shouldn”t be telling you this, but” means that “I” is your friend and feels you should have this information, but has reservations about being the one to tell you. “I shouldn”t be telling you this, but ” means that telling you goes against “I”s” better judgment. The “this” might hurt your feelings. “I shouldn”t be telling you this means that the information will benefit you immensely, but people other than “I” are trying to keep it from you. No matter the inflection, the “but” guarantees that the info is on the way.

Don”t get me wrong: Being privy to sensitive information does have its drawbacks. Sometimes, that which follows “but” is highly unpleasant and can induce nightmares. Like an unlikely and/or grotesque hook up involving two people you know. Aaack! Why did you tell me that? Honestly, some people just don”t know when to keep their mouths shut.

Aubrey Henretty”s column runs every other Monday. She can be reached via e-mail at ahenrett@umich.edu.

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