Gossip is a way of talking about someone(s) behind his or her back that creates a negative image of the one(s) being talked about. The Bible very clearly points out the danger and damage involved with engaging in gossip in any way (see Proverbs 20:19 for example).
The Bible speaks strongly against gossip for many reasons. For one, it breaks trust between people. "A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends" (Proverbs 16:28). Gossip is not a characteristic of God. Simply put, nothing good comes from it (Proverbs 13:3).
Gossip does not just mean doing the talking. It may be easier for some to withhold from gossiping about others in many situations, but it can be very hard to overcome the temptation to listen to someone else dishing up the latest juicy details about so-and-so. Listening to it is just as much a part of gossip as speaking it (Proverbs 17:4).
It's fairly easy to identify gossip when the content is harsh and clearly intended to harm the image of the one being spoken of. Colossians 3:8 and James 4:11 command us not to slander another. Other types of gossip can be easier to misidentify as such. Subtle innuendos can mislead someone's thoughts about a person unfairly (Proverbs 26:20). Leading off with something like, "I'm not sure if this is true or not, but apparently…" before sharing some interesting "news" with others can make it seem innocent enough. Will it hurt the person being talked about? Maybe… but maybe not! James 4:17 leaves no room for grey: "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."
If you're unsure if saying something would be gossip or not, it's best to err on the side of caution. We can't "unsay" something we've already said. James 3:5 tells us what a powerful tool our words are. Gossip can be so easy to fall into, but as Christians, it should be something we strive to keep out of our lives and interactions with others, for their and our own benefit. Ephesians 4:29 puts it best: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."
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