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When Mr. and Mrs. Dursley woke up on the dull, gray Tuesday our story starts, there was nothing about the cloudy sky outside to suggest that strange and mysterious things would soon be happening all over the country. Mr. Dursley hummed as he picked out his most boring tie for work, and Mrs. Dursley gossiped away happily as she wrestled a screaming Dudley into his high chair.

What is the meaning of "gossip away" in the above context? I couldn't find a proposition ascribed to "gossip" or the phrasal verb "gossip away" in dictionaries.

  • Possible duplicate of 'Ask away' - what does 'away' mean? – StoneyB Jun 18 '17 at 11:36
  • @StoneyB There's a similarity, but I wouldn't answer this question by bringing up analogies with phrases involving ammunition. There's still a notion of "Let fly!" (go all-out, without self-restraint), but I think Tᴚoɯɐuo's analogous phrases like "babbling away" and "simmering away" are much better choices. – Ben Kovitz Jun 18 '17 at 12:09
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The word away when it follows a verb as it does there expresses the idea of unrestrained repeated or ongoing action. When the actor is a sentient being, the idea can be that the actor is "totally immersed" in the activity, that is, not paying attention to what's going on around him or her. When the actor is non-sentient, the meaning is that it was doing the action without interruption, continuously.

They were chatting away.

The baby was babbling away in its crib.

The stew was simmering away on the stove.

To gossip is to relate tidbits of news to another person. To gossip away means either to relate a succession of tidbits about different subjects, tidbit after tidbit after tidbit, or to tell a fairly long story with many details. Usually the news relates to a local person or someone related to them; the story is transmitted by "hearsay".

P.S. Gossip can be about personal details that people would normally like to keep private (e.g. the couple down the street had a loud argument the other night and may be getting a divorce) or bits of trivial local news not of a private nature (the neighbor's cat just had kittens, the boy down the street who delivers the newspapers had his bicycle stolen). Since the story uses the word happily to describe Mrs Dursley's behavior, and the phrase gossiped away, the inference I draw is that she is relaying trivial bits of news that do not involve anything that people would want to be kept private. We would not normally expect to find the word away used to describe someone who is revealing news of a salacious nature; "juicy secrets" are not normally delivered in a free and unrestrained manner while one tends to a screaming baby.

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    But in any case, I'm focusing on the meaning of the phrase, and wouldn't want to get into why someone would merrily gossip. I try to stay clear of psychology, especially when it involves stereotypical behavior. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 18 '17 at 11:46
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    I'm thinking that gossip is usually negative and behind someone's back, so engaging in it is a dirty sort of pleasure, but one that people often get immersed in. "Gossiping away" is thus a kind of shameful self-indulgence. I don't think you need to explicitly spell all that out, just explain it in such a way as to hint or imply the negative aspect of gossip. For example, TV newsreaders aren't normally accused of gossiping. (If you don't want to, I'll either take a crack at another answer or get back to working on what I should be doing right now…) – Ben Kovitz Jun 18 '17 at 11:55
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    Gossip doesn't have to be malicious, Ben. There is benign gossip. That's why I called it "tidbits of news". There is no "shameful self-indulgence" here. The news could be about what happened to the neighbor's cat at the vet, or that the boy down the street who delivers the newspapers had his bicycle stolen. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 18 '17 at 12:00
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    It doesn't have to be malicious, but you know the word's center of gravity is a long way from mere transmission of news. Anyway, we can respectfully disagree, and I'm three minutes late starting work… :) – Ben Kovitz Jun 18 '17 at 12:06
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    No, I know rather that the word doesn't have a "center of gravity". I've appended a P.S. to my answer. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 18 '17 at 12:25

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