You’ll see many false nautical origins on these pages. People like to ascribe nautical origins to words and phrases, even when they’re not accurate. But in this case, scuttlebutt does indeed come from the age of sail.
Scuttlebutt is an early 19th century nautical term for an open cask of water kept on deck for use by the crew. The term comes from scuttle (to cut a hole in) + butt (a large cask). Sailors would gather about the cask and trade stories and gossip, much like modern office workers do at the water cooler or coffee pot. By the turn of the 20th century, American sailors began using the term scuttlebutt to refer to these sea stories and gossip. And eventually the term became associated with any gossip or rumor and divorced from its nautical origins.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton