Today

The Friday Fillip: Nonsense and Nonsensibility

“The family of Harper has long been settled in Sussex Drive.”

Parliament, it would appear, is demiprorogued, which might seem as impossible as being just a little bit pregnant. Yet the will-he, won’t-he, has-he, hasn’t-he uncertainty persists so long as the definitive decision is . . . well, prorogued. What is certain, though, is that the House is not in session, which gives us a little time to prepare for what we might say when we again rise up on our hind legs and give voice to our thoughts. And for what we may not say even though we may think it.

The rule about unparliamentary language can’t be reduced to a simple list of forbidden words; times change, words change, and context is all. But it’s fun to see where we’ve been, or, rather, where we weren’t allowed to go. Fortunately iPolitics has come up with the list of all things ruled unparliamentary from 1875 to 1977. (Nothing since then? What a pusilanimous set of blatherskites we have in our time!) Click here to see that list in a popup, with the year of the ruling following each censured phrase.

I have to say that I do not find that this list sets my heart a-thumping. It’s a sad display of very ordinary, and likely unplanned, insults. Better, I would argue, to focus on the content and not on the speaker, and better still to reach deep into the (very big) bag of English contumelies. Herewith, then, a small selection of words for nonsense, drawn I should say, from that marvellous and relatively new resource, the Historical Thesaurus of the OED, and found at the end of this telling trail of breadcrumbsthe mind > mental capacity > intelligibility > absence of meaning > nonsense, rubbish.

balderdash
balductum
bosh
claptrap
codswallop
fiddle-faddle
fiddlededee
flapdoodle
flim-flam
flummadiddle
flummery
kelter
malarkey
mataeology
moonshine
piffle
poppycock
rot
rubbish
skimble-skamble
tommy-rot
tosh
tripe
trumpery
twaddle

I myself rather like “codswallop,” it having a satisfying mouth feel and at the same time a suggestion of Canadianness, east coast variety. Curiously, this word that might have come from Chaucer is a late entry to the language, arriving first in print in 1959, and showing, thus, that inventing invective is not a dead art. “Poppycock,” surprisingly, is Dutch for doll excrement, lending the word a stature of sorts it might otherwise not have. And the odd “balductum,” hailing from 1593, is Latin for pressed milk: res, as they say, ipsa loquitur. The Nouveau Trudeau might do well to drop “flummadiddle” into the mix during some scrum. And I can see the nation forming a whole new impression of Tommy Mulcair should he let fly with “skimble-skamble.” (“Tommy,” as in tommy-rot, was a mid-nineteenth century soldiers’ — and workers’ — term for the bread ration afforded them.)

Good as the OED is, I’m sure there are more words out there for nonsense. So let me know your terms for tosh (and, while you’re at it, cc. your member of Parliament pro bono publico).  

Between Mulcair and Paillé there was that constant communication which strong national affection would naturally dictate; and among the merits and the happiness of Stephen and Justin, let it not be ranked as the least considerable, that, though compatriots, and living almost within sight of each other, they could live without disagreement between themselves, or producing coolness between their followers.

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Comments

  1. A Brilliant post for a Friday!
    My English roots (and Mum) has me recognising almost all of those nonsense words. (My fave has to be Rubbish though.)

    Here are some others from the other side of the Pond:

    Naff, Jobby, Crummy, Pants (a word with a definitely different meaning over here), Pear-shaped, Daft, Shambles, Bodge. And then of course there’s Crap.
    But that one might be on the cusp of polite conversation for a Friday Fillip…

  2. baloney, bull, blabber, bunk, clack, drivel, gabble, gibberish, hogwash, hooey, jive, palaver, prattle, tittle-tattle

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