: rumor, gossip
This word literally defines the container that held a ship's freshwater supply in the early 1800s. Consequently, like the contemporary office water cooler, sailors would share gossip around the SCUTTLEBUTT, and the term eventually designated what the archaic water cooler's atmosphere instigated instead of the cooler itself.
What is it about a water cooler that inspires SCUTTLEBUTT, especially among a bunch of sailors and not just among bored nine-to-fivers in a depressing windowless breakroom? Better yet--*what did sailors gossip about? It seems to me that a better definition for this classification of ship-speak would be "talking shit."
Seriously, though, water coolers. I think it's really just the act of breaking from work that inspires the shit-talk, and the water cooler just happens to be the center piece. You have to have some reason to be around the kitchenette--just grabbing a drink of water, you think. The wax cup is a great detraction from the meaningless SCUTTLEBUTT in which you are about to participate. I find, particularly at my job, that the break room only fosters boredinary gossip: who called out because they were hungover, who wants to transfer to another store, etc. The really juicy stuff happens in places like the coat closet or in various food prep areas: who fucked the new cashier, who got busted for stealing a loofah, who showed up at the morning meeting on meth.
My point (that I am hardly stating with clarity--I'm on vacation) is that a word like SCUTTLEBUTT proves gossip is totally natural. If a bunch of sailors were talking shit 200 years ago around a spigot of fresh water, than I feel okay about hiding in the walk-in fridge to find out who cheated on their girlfriend with the weird girl who is 25 but actually looks 14 and has the voice of a seventy-year-old smoker.
*Confession: I'm writing this on my mother's PC and I can't figure out how to make the coveted long dash.