Printable Version
Pronunciation: skê-dêl-bêt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: 1. The drinking fountain or other source of water aboard a ship. 2. Gossip, rumors.

Notes: Although it originally referred to gossip picked up around the water cooler (see Word History), today this Good Word refers to any kind of gossip or rumors. It began its life as an adjective in phrases like scuttlebutt rumor and a scuttlebutt yarn, talk around the water container, whatever it was. But in the 30s it began to spread through the general language until it became a fixture of English vocabulary.

In Play: Today's word is available when you need a word longer than rumor or gossip or when you tire of using these two old stand-bys: "The scuttlebutt has it that Faye Slift has had so much cosmetic surgery that every time she sits down she grins." Scuttlebutt no longer has to be gossip picked up by the water cooler—but that remains a very good spot to get the latest: "Did you hear the latest scuttlebutt? I heard at the water cooler that Wadley got a transmotion (lateral change of positions) to Kuala Lumpur."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a lexical gift from the US Navy. It originated as a British naval slang phrase, scuttled butt, the keg for drinking water on board a ship. As a result, scuttlebutt originally referred exclusively to the gossip you pick up around the water barrel. To scuttle means "to cut a hole in something" and is still used in reference to sinking a boat or ship. But a hole in a butt (keg) of water allows access to the contents. Now, I know what you are thinking and butt has nothing to do with that. The British Navy lifted this word from Old French boute, a descendant of Late Latin buttis "cask, keg". A small cask was a butticula in Late Latin, a word that Old French converted to botele, (Modern French bouteille), and passed on to English as bottle. (The scuttlebutt around the alphaDictionary water cooler is that Lenn Zonder suggested today's Good Word and you can bottle our scuttlebutt.)

Dr. Goodword,

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