Tuesday, June 30, 2009


There are many synonyms for the word nonsense, which indicates how prevalent it has been through the ages. It refers to statements that are unintelligible, obscure, foolish, or laughably trivial.

Some of the words were produced through onomatopoeia; they echo animal sounds or represent meaningless expulsions of air. Others refer to unpalatable drinks, dregs, or disgusting bodily fluids. Some of these words have obscure or contested origins, so this does not pretend to be definitive. The dates given indicate when an earlier meaning became a synonym for nonsense.

balderdash [1852] One of the earliest senses was a jumbled mixture of liquors--milk and beer, beer and wine. Considered a stretch, but perhaps influenced by Norwegian baldra, to roar, thunder, clatter.

baloney [1922] Alleged to have come from a sausage made in Bologna, but perhaps influenced by blarney.

bilge [1908] From the foul liquid that pools in the bottom of a ship’s hull (the bulge).

bunkum or bunk [1828] Congressman Felix Walker, representing Buncombe County, North Carolina, refused to stop his irrelevant speech when the question was called during a debate on the Missouri Compromise.

claptrap [1727] A trick or device to catch (trap) applause; an expression designed to elicit applause.

drivel [1325] Spittle flowing from the mouth or dribbling from the nose.

gibberish [1554] Imitative of rapid and inarticulate speech. Often paired with jabber.

gobbledygook [1944] Echoing a turkey-cock's gobble.

hogwash [1773] The swill or slop of a brewery or kitchen given to hogs.

piffle [1847] Imitative of air escaping from the lips, a meaningless puff.

poppycock [1852] Apparently from the Dutch poppekak, soft dung.

prattle [1555] Probably imitative of the clucking made by a laying hen.

tommyrot [1884] -- From the name Thomas, probably through tommy-noddy, a foolish or stupid person. What comes out of his mouth is putrified garbage.

twaddle [1782] Origin obscure, but possibly an imitation of the sound made by a goose.

SIDEBAR: The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science

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