Words for gossipy newsmongers turn up fairly regularly on our Twitter feed, most of which are fairly bizarre or nonsensical concoctions like twattlebasket, clang-banger and clat-fart. But this week, we added the word Briareus to this list, defined as “someone who always knows the latest news or gossip”.
...and its roots lie in the ugly underworld of Ancient Greek mythology.
According to Greek myth, Briareus—along with his brothers Kottos and Gyges—was one of three monstrous creatures known as the Hecatoncheires. The offspring of Gaia, goddess of the earth, and Uranus, god of the heavens, in at least one version of their story Uranus was supposedly so horrified by the Hecatoncheires’ appearance at their birth that he had them thrown immediately 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”, and in Virgil’s Aeneid was used as an epithet for the legendary hero Aeneas. That famous allusion (along with other versions of the Hecatoncheires’ war with the Titans that focus more on Briareus than his brothers) has probably helped to make Briareus’ name the most well-known of the three —but why has it become synonymous with gossiping clatterfarts at all?
Well, the name Hecatoncheires literally means “hundred-handed”—and as well as having 100 hands, these monsters also had 50 heads. (You can understand now why Uranus was so horrified, right?)
It’s from that 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. Extra heads notwithstanding, of course.