The spread of word of mouth has always been described as an inexplicable, almost supernatural phenomenon. It combines an extraordinary speed that allows information to reach distant places with a virtual impossibility of identifying its point of origin. In antiquity, various similes were used to indicate the speed of the word, all revolving around its imagined ability to fly ἔπεα πτερόεντα. The path of hearsay has often been described as the unpredictable journey of self-propagating talk: leaving from an unidentifiable source, branching out, and sometimes dissolving into an anonymous crowd. The surprising processes of this form of oral communication, which can never be verified, are contrasted with those of written and official communication carried by messengers, often in relays, which have the characteristics needed to transmit trustworthy information.
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