Tag Archives: telephone

Gossip Game

“So another game is called Gossip, and you sit in a circle and one person, or I think it has been called Telephone, but it’s also called Gossip, and so one person has a secret to tell the person next to them, so they whisper it into their ear, and then it goes around the circle, the next person has to whisper it and the next and the next and the next, and then when you get to the end, the last person says what they heard from that person and compare it to what the person originally said. And that’s the game.”


The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up that she has observed taking place among her students now. She learned this game, “probably in elementary school . . . in Houston, Texas. We played it in like a second grade class, in a circle.”
The informant thinks “two reasons [the game is] attractive to people is because it’s interesting to see what comes out at the end, if you compare what originally was said with what was it, so you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s so weird that you never hear the same thing at the end that it started out to be, so it’s interesting to see what it warps into.’ And I guess the other reason it’s called Gossip it what you originally say isn’t what you hear at the end. So, the message is diluted when other people say it.” The informant implied this is also what she thinks it means.


This game was interesting to me when the informant explained it because I know it is “Telephone.” This game is an easy game to play with a lot of people who do not necessarily know each other, and it is variable in the amount of time it takes to play. The fact that the informant knows it as “Gossip” and learned to play it when she was in elementary school is somewhat revealing about what this game actually means. While it is fun to see how the original message gets changed as people hear and interpret it, it also seems like there is a deeper message behind its simple actions. This game functions as a way to teach children about the way gossip works in our society, and how what you say can be changed into something unrecognizable by the end. The way the information is transmitted may be boiled down and expedited, but it is still a helpful demonstration of a larger social phenomenon.

A Big White Van

Item and Context:

“My seniors in school – the eighth graders – would always tell us to ‘Never trust a man in a big white van!’ We were all really interested in why, especially because my friend Evan thought that white vans were pretty cool. Haha, no… So he, bold as he is, went up to one of the many eighth graders repeating this warning and asked them what the story was. When he returned, he informed me that it was because this one kid from our middle school had been kidnapped by a man in a big white van and held for ransom! So when a friend of mine asked me about it, I repeated to him exactly what Evan had told me. After a few days, there was a rumor spreading around the school that the man in a big white van had taken away one of the students many years ago, and that student had been held for ransom, and when the parents failed to come up with the cash, the kid was murdered and his spirit was the one telling the eighth graders to ‘Never trust a man in a big white van!’! I did not understand how this happened. I assume that it traveled from Evan to me to A to B to C and so on, finally resulting in this wild exaggeration. How strange, no?”


The proverb/superstition that this story is based on is an example of children’s lore. However, what is most interesting is that while it is an example of a type of folklore, the story the informant provided is also a perfect depiction of exactly how folklore happens. I doubt that his friend was even told about a “ransom”, and instead added that detail just to spice up the story. As the story went around the middle school, everyone freely added their own details to it, resulting in something starkly different than what these eighth graders were probably talking about, much like the game ‘Telephone’, which is also an excellent example of the process of folklore creation. The belief that the warning is based on is that large, white, unmarked vans are usually driven by creepy pedophiles who offer little girls candy and then whisk them away. Hence, according to the informant and his seniors at school – ‘Never trust a man in a big white van!’