Quantcast
Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary

A Thoughtful Guide to Words About Nonsense

Buffoonery, Codswallop & More


Definition:

: words or language having no meaning or conveying no intelligible ideas; drivel

Example:

"If you subscribe to the belief that December 21 will mark the series finale of this thing we call existence, then you've probably got a few questions you'd like answered beforehand. There's all that codswallop about the meaning of life and the existence of a higher power, but we're primarily focused on the big questions here." – Michael Arbeiter, New York Post, December 18, 2012

About the Word:

Rumor has it that this 20th century British coinage was originally a derogatory name for products of one Hiram Codd, a 19th-century manufacturer of soft drinks. (Wallop is a colloquial term for "beer.") Evidence to back the story does not exist, though, and the origin of codswallop remains unknown.

Definition:

: foolish or playful behavior or practice

Example:

"Jersey Shore" finally – and mercifully – concludes Thursday after six seasons of spray-on tans, easy hookups, multiple arrests and general buffoonery." – Chuck Barney, MercuryNews.com (San Jose, CA), December 19, 2012

About the Word:

Buffoonery comes from buffoon, originally the name for a fellow whose profession was to entertain others by tricks, gestures, or comic pantomime. The word buffoon comes from the Latin word for "toad."

Definition:

: foolish talk or activity; nonsense – often used interjectionally

Example:

"Charles," said Cordelia, "Modern Art is all bosh, isn't it?"

"Great bosh."

"Oh, I'm so glad. I had an argument with one of our nuns and she said we shouldn't try and criticize what we didn't understand. Now I shall tell her I have had it straight from a real artist, and snubs to her."

—Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945

About the Word:

Bosh comes from boş, a Turkish word meaning "empty; useless."

Definition:

: playful or foolish behavior

Example:

"Most only remember [Bobby Valentine] for his dugout tomfoolery as manager of the New York Mets, when – after being ejected in the 12th inning of a game against the Blue Jays – Valentine returned to the bench wearing a fake mustache." – Zach Drucker, The Tufts Daily, December 4, 2011

About the Word:

Tomfoolery comes from Thome Fole, a name that Middle English speakers applied to anyone they considered a half-wit. Thome was a nickname for "Thomas" and fole meant simply "fool."

a-thoughtful-guide-to-words-about-nonsense-bunkum
Photo: Wikipedia

Definition:

: insincere or foolish talk; claptrap

Example:

"As it happens I believe this whipped-up paranoia is bunkum and that some kind of statutory underpinning is essential for any future press regulatory body." – Yasmin Alibhai Brown, The Independent (UK), November 25, 2012

About the Word:

Bunkum was born in American politics. In 1820, North Carolina Representative Felix Walker gave a particularly long and wearisome speech that contributed little to the matter at hand. The politician defended his speech on the grounds that he was speaking for the people in his county: Buncombe. The extended meaning – and the spelling bunkum – appeared not long after.

Definition:

: voluble nonsensical or inconsequential talk or writing; blather

Example:

"Now this FHT [website] is pure bosh and blatherskite, so tell your spouse to keep his inheritance dry though I'm certain I'd be wasting time telling you that FHT's boldly advertised results are impossible." – Malcolm Berko, Lake County News-Sun, December 10, 2012

About the Word:

Blatherskite has a Scottish pedigree, and originated as an alteration of blather skateskate being a Scottish term for a contemptible person. The first blatherskite was a blustering and often incompetent person.

Definition:

: foolish, empty, and often specious talk, writing, ideas, or opinions

Example:

"On the credibility spectrum, these theories fall somewhere between pseudoscience and straight-up flapdoodle." – Chris Gay, U.S. News & World Report, December 5, 2012

About the Word:

If anyone insists they know the origin of flapdoodle, their explanation is probably flapdoodle. We don't know where the word came from, but it probably began as an alteration of some other absurd word – the obsolete word fadoodle is one candidate.

Definition:

: nonsense; empty talk

Example:

"If Mr. Austin has indeed taught nuclear physics, he needs to do better than toss out some jingoistic pseudoscientific balderdash, assuming that nobody will know how specious his ideas really are." – comment on The Augusta Chronicle Web site, December 17, 2012

About the Word:

At one time, balderdash ("origin unknown") referred to an odd and usually objectionable mixture of drinks (such as beer and milk or beer and wine). Balderdash with a capital "B" is now the name of a family board game.

Definition:

: pranks; mischievous or questionable tricks or pranks; monkey business

Example:

"NBC halts Olympics for promotional monkeyshines" – headline, Times Free Press.com (Chattanooga, TN), August 13, 2012

About the Word:

It's easy to see the playful monkey in monkeyshines, but what about shine? That word can also mean "a stupid trick" or "a silly caper" – and is usually used in the plural form when it does.

Folderol
Up Next
favorite-pictures-in-the-dictionary-peruke

Favorite Pictures in the Dictionary

Definition:

: nonsensical talk or action : trivial nonsense

Example:

"As a teen, he naively believes that what he needs to know about driving will be found in those little pamphlets and the Registry's so-called 'Rules of the Road.' I say that's balderdash bordering on folderol." – Craig Salters, Wicked Local Nantucket, December 12, 2012

About the Word:

Where else would a word for "nonsense" come from but nonsense? Folderol originated in fol-de-rol, a nonsense refrain in songs.




Seen and Heard