Word-of-Mouth – Usage, Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Have you ever bought something or taken a chance on a service based solely on word of mouth? You may not have even known you did it if you don’t understand what the phrase “word of mouth” means. I’ve got some insight into this common saying, so read on and learn for yourself!

What Does Word of Mouth Mean?

Word of Mouth Usage Origin Meaning

“Word of mouth” refers to the communication of certain info from one person to another by spoken words. It’s when you tell another person about your experience with a product, service, or even a location.

“Word of mouth” is a really powerful marketing tool because it’s based on trust and personal recommendation. Most people are more likely to take a chance on something if a person they know recommends it rather than being influenced by advertising.

In my world of book publishing, I know for a fact that readers are far more likely to take a chance on my books if another reader suggests it rather than buy my books based on paid advertising like Facebook ads.

Is It “Word of Mouth” or “Words of Mouth”?

Let’s clear up the correct way to say the phrase. It’s “word of mouth,” not “words of mouth” or even “word to mouth.”

The use of the singular “word” encompasses the collective information being communicated, while “mouth” is how it’s transmitted.

So, it’s not multiple words coming out of multiple mouths but a single piece of information being passed along from one person’s mouth to someone’s ears.

Just think of the phrase “word on the street.” It doesn’t mean just a single word. It’s a slang way of asking “what’s being said amongst the people.”

Is “Word of Mouth” Hyphenated?

No, “word of mouth” isn’t supposed to be hyphenated unless you’re modifying the noun after it. Otherwise, it’s a two-word phrase that’s usually written without the use of a hyphen.

  • I prefer word-of-mouth recommendations over paid marketing efforts.
  • Do you listen to word of mouth when looking for new products?

The Origin of the Phrase “Word of Mouth”

The idiomatic saying dated all the way to 1533 and was used to define the act of speaking and actually derived from the Old English word “mop,” aka mouth.

Some say it came from the Medieval Latin term viva voce, which means with the living voice. It was first used in English around the 16th century.

The phrase itself was coined for modern usage by mathematician and statistician George Silverman after conducting a focus group test.

Using Word of Mouth in a Sentence

Word of Mouth Usage Origin Meaning 1
  • I heard about this awesome new restaurant from a friend of mine, and it was amazing! I would never have gone if it weren’t for the word-of-mouth referrals.
  • My neighbor recommended this plumber, who did a fantastic job fixing my sink. I trust word of mouth from friends and first-hand experiences better than an ad.
  • As a prolific reader, reading at least a book a week, I tend to buy books based on word-of-mouth recommendations from readers who enjoy the same books as I do.
  • Word-of-mouth advertising is the way to go these days with so much competition in the paid ads market. 
  • We used to get word-of-mouth knowledge from our elders, but now we get it from Google. 

Word of Mouth Is King

So, whether you’re looking for a new product or service or trying to sell something of your own, the word-of-mouth basis has been preferred by people for centuries because it invokes a sense of trust. “Well, they liked it, so it must be good.” Just remember to hyphenate the saying if you’re using it to modify the noun after it, like “word-of-mouth networks.”