A Thoughtful Guide to Words About Nonsense

Buffoonery, Codswallop & More
30 Aug 2021

newspaper headline clipping collage

Definition:

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

Example:

"Almost immediately, people sort themselves into camps to declare that THIS WILL CHANGE THE WORLD or it’s TOTAL CODSWALLOP THAT WILL RUIN EVERYTHING. We would all benefit from more breath and less breathlessness." – Shira Ovide, The New York Times, 26 Mar., 2021

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.

a thoughtful guide to words about nonsense buffoonery

Definition:

: foolish or playful behavior or practice

Example:

"Having a perilous reputation for bullying and all-around buffoonery, Bullworth proves a challenge for Jimmy as he struggles to adapt to the cliquey landscape while also maintaining his place high up on the social food chain." – Christian Smith, Collider, 22 Aug., 2021

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."

a thoughtful guide to words about nonsense bosh

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."

a thoughtful guide to words about nonsense tomfoolery

Definition:

: playful or foolish behavior

Example:

"Even by Musk’s standards, it was a bizarre and brilliant bit of tomfoolery: a multipurpose sideshow that trolled Tesla skeptics, fed the fans, ginned up the share price, and created some eye-catching headlines. The latter being particularly important in a week when most Tesla news has focused on a federal investigation into a tendency of the company’s Autopilot software to crash into parked emergency vehicles." – James Vincent, The Verge, 20 Aug., 2021

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:

"That’s his prerogative, of course. There’s enough going on in the world that only the most attentive sports fan will miss the regular fix of pseudo-scientific bunkum." – Eamon Lynch, The Florida Times-Union, 21 Aug., 2021

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.

a thoughtful guide to words about nonsense blatherskite

Definition:

: voluble nonsensical or inconsequential talk or writing; blather

: a person who blathers a lot

Example:

"His enemies believed he’d crossed the line into unlawful language, with one editor calling him a 'treasonably-inclined blatherskite.'" – Randy Dotinga, The Christian Science Monitor, 29 Mar., 2016

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. For many people, this word is probably most familiar from the catchphrase of the great Scrooge McDuck: "blathering blatherskite!"

a thoughtful guide to words about nonsense flapdoodle

Definition:

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

Example:

"For many readers they’re makeweight puffery, eminently skippable, a lot of throat-clearing and flapdoodle. A collection of such squibs might be a tough sell even if its author is acclaimed litterateur Michael Chabon." – Stephen Phillips, The Los Angeles Times, 11 Feb, 2019

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.

a thoughtful guide to words about nonsense balderdash

Definition:

: nonsense; empty talk

Example:

"After 2020, the Patriots may have to take a different direction in 2021, But it in no way was due to a 'failed Cam Newton experiment.' Don’t buy that balderdash. " – Michael DeVito, Fansided (chowderandchampions.com), 6 Mar., 2021

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.

a thoughtful guide to words about nonsense monkeyshines

Definition:

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

Example:

"Paris zoo puts an end to escaped baboons' monkeyshines" – headline, DW.com, 27 Jan., 2018

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.

a thoughtful guide to words about nonsense folderol

Definition:

: nonsensical talk or action : trivial nonsense

Example:

"The trading folderol caught the attention of Robin Hood enthusiasts in Nottingham, England, where legends swirl of past campaigns to squeeze the rich." – James Hookway, The Wall Street Journal (wsj.com), 8 Feb., 2021

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.


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