When I came across a reference to a “birthing chair” in a historical novel by Barbara Youree, I wanted to know more about it, so I did a Web search and found this:
Today, the idea of giving birth while sitting upright in a wooden chair may seem torturous. But long before delivery rooms, stirrups, forceps and foetal monitors, a woman gave birth at home in a chair with the aid of her midwife and other female friends, relatives and neighbours. These women were known as the ‘gossips’, for they spread the word to all the women in the community when another went into labour.
What distracted my attention from the birthing chair was the explanation of the word gossips. The modern definition of “a gossip” is a person who spreads information about other people, but that is a later development of the word gossip. The “gossips” who helped a friend give birth in the old days got their name another way.
The noun gossip comes from Old English godsibb, “godparent.” The element sib means “kinsman, relation by blood.” The word survives in modern English sibling, “each of two or more children of a common parent or parents.” The word sib itself survives in Scottish dialect, as in the proverb, “All Stuarts are not sib,” (i.e., “just because you have the same name as someone famous doesn’t mean that you’re related.”)
Nowadays children who are baptized ordinarily have only two godparents, but in earlier times a child might have several. Joan of Arc, for example, had at least eight. And even in this century, Prince George of Cambridge has been provided with seven.
In time the noun gossip expanded to mean any close friend, man or woman, but especially the women present to help at a birth. Any activity that involves waiting for something to happen is going to call forth plenty of idle talk, so it wasn’t much of a leap for gossip to take on its present meaning.
From the noun comes the verb to gossip, “to tell tales or spread rumors.”
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