• Paul Anthony Jones

Briareus

(n.) someone who always knows the latest gossip



Words for gossipy newsmongers turn up fairly regularly on the HH feed, most of which are fairly bizarre or nonsensical concoctions like twattlebasket, clang-banger and clat-fart. But the word Briareus—describing someone who always seems to know the latest news or gossip—has a much more classically-informed etymology behind it.


In Greek myth, Briareus—along with his brothers Kottos and Gyges—was one of three monstrous creatures known as the Hecatoncheires. The offspring of Uranus and the earth goddess Gaia, in at least one version of their story Uranus was so horrified by the Hecatoncheires’ appearance at their birth that he had them thrown into Tartarus, the great abyss into which the wicked were said to be tormented forever. There they grew into exceptionally powerful giants, and according to another version of their tale, eventually played a part in the downfall of their own father and his fellow Titans.

The name Briareus essentially means ‘strong’ in Greek, and in Virgil’s Aeneid was used as an epithet for the legendary hero Aeneas. That famous literary allusion (along with other versions of the Hecatoncheires’ war with the Titans that focus more on Briareus than his brothers) helped to make Briareus’ name the most well-known of the three. But why has it become synonymous with gossiping clatterfarts?

The name Hecatoncheires literally means ‘hundred-handed’—and as well as having 100 hands, these monsters also had 50 heads. It’s from that extraordinary armoury of extraneous appendages that Briareus’ name eventually came to be associated with anyone who appears to see or know everything before anyone else—and, ultimately, with someone who is always up to date with the latest news and gossip.

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