26 December 2010

Slang & Idioms : It’s a bunch of nonsense!

My family and I were watching Disney’s Christmas Carol from last year that was recently released on DVD. In the movie, Ebenezer Scrooge says that Christmas is balderdash. My father made a comment wondering what the origin of that word was. So, I set out last night to look it up and was inspired by the various ways we say “nonsense” in English.

We have several ways of expressing the idea that something, such as talk or writing, is a bunch of nonsense. Here are a few:

  • It’s balderdash! – This is a very old term of an unknown origin that dates back to the late 16th century and originally meant a mix of liquors. By the end of the 17th century, it meant a senseless mix of words.
  • That’s bunk! – This expression’s origins are founded in American history. The word is actually short for Buncombe County in North Carolina which was represented in Congress in 1820 by Felix Walter. At the time, the question of slavery was deeply dividing the nation and the Congress was debating whether or not to admit Missouri in the Union as a slave or free state. After a lot of debates and just before the final vote, Representative Walker gave his opinion on the matter. Unfortunately, he gave a really, really bad speech “for Buncombe.” The term immediately became a joke in Washington referring to any nonsensical speech. Eventually, the term entered common speech.
  • What a bunch of drivel! – To drivel means to have saliva dripping from the mouth. For hundreds of years, a drivel meant an idiot or very stupid person such as those who walked around with an empty look on their face and their mouths open with saliva drooling from their mouths. This meaning is obsolete today. From here though, the association was made to nonsense or lack of intelligence.
  • What poppycock! – I was a bit shocked at the origin of this word since I’ve heard this one through the years. This word is derived from two Dutch words and literally means soft or mushy shit!! In Dutch, pappekak is quite vulgar! I’m sure most English speakers who use this term have no idea what they are really saying.
  • That’s a load of rubbish! – Rubbish is a typical British word for the things you throw away. In the expression above, it refers to any untruth or nonsense. In American English, ‘rubbish’ would be replaced with ‘garbage.’

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