On 24 May 1844 Samuel Morse presented his new invention – telegraph – to congressmen. To demonstrate its ability to speedily transmit information over great distances he sent a message from Washington to Baltimore.
The new means of communication met with great enthusiasm and soon telegraph lines criss-crossed the country.
Rumour and gossip have been around for much longer than telegraph and like Morse’s invention have an almost magical capacity to spread information briskly, even if not in a straight line and often distorting the truth beyond recognition along the way. So, shortly after the historic demo, the phrase grapevine telegraph was coined. Over time, the word telegraph was dropped, but the grapevine has remained in the language, just like the social phenomenon it describes.
How do you know Sarah’s expecting a baby? – I heard it on the grapevine (i.e. someone, who heard it from someone else, told me).
Interestingly, the Russian equivalent of this phrase also features a 19th-century invention – the radio – as well as the country’s traditional pinafore dress sarafan – сарафанное радио.