Sunday, November 25, 2007


I was driving and thinking. I find the mind wanders in a particular way when driving. I've read that the right side of the brain gets a bit more control, because the left side (verbal) is bored with the work at hand, and dodges out, letting the right side take over. Driving, folding laundry, washing yourself in the shower - these are all yawns for the left brain.

So when the left brain steps out briefly, the right brain considers words in a different light. Mine tends to herd them together in groups. Like the small pile of whelks on my desk, picked up in Maine, which I almost unconsciously sort and line up like little artillery pieces during long conference calls and phone meetings. I arrange them by size, or by how they're ribbed, or by how weathered and worn they are. With words I do the same, and I started considering words we use when we protest that something is not so.

There are the simple, literal, straight words, like Untrue, False, Lies, Nonsense, Absurd, each with different degrees and blends of mistake or malice implied.
Bunk belongs with this group (from Bunkum, or Buncombe, a word from 1820's Washington about speeches made just for show or applause).
So do Blather (from an old Norse word for chatter) and Blarney (which comes from a particular myth about the Blarney Stone in Ireland, implying the words are nonsense or false flattery).
So does Hooey (from a 1930s magazine of spoof ads, a precursor of Mad Magazine) and Malarkey (origin unknown).
Balderdash is a stronger word in this family, though it's origins are unknown (here are some theories).
Preposterous is also stronger, coming from a Latin idea that seems similar to our idiom "ass backwards."
Humbug also goes here, being an 18th century slang term for a hoax or a joke.

Or we might deride the untruth with words like Foolish, Laughable, Hilarious, and Ridiculous. "That's rich," is apparently in this group, as "rich" is a slang synonym for laughable.

Carrying unintended falsehood further we might insist it's Madness, Lunacy, Insane, Raving, Out of your mind.

Or we might insist listeners should throw out the falsehood as Rubbish or Garbage.
Baloney is a slang usage in this group, probably because bologna was made from the last scraps of meat, that would otherwise be thrown away (though some think this is actually a corruption of Blarney, or came to mean nonsense because the sounds are so close).
Hogwash is also in this group, being the swill fit only to feed to pigs.

Moving further we progress from trash to manure, and this is where the more vulgar slang appears (you have been warned).
Load of crap
Bull dinkey (though the only references to dinkey I can find on-line refer to a type of small 19th and early 20th century locomotive used to shunt cars around a rail yard)
Horsefeathers (which may belong here or up with Blarney)
Bulls**t (though Bull also belongs up with Blarney, as it was used in the 17th century, while the full phrase we know today is American, and is believed to have shown up in the early 20th century).
A Crock (of s**t) (I found the proposed ancient Roman origin, on this website, to be coarsely funny, and quite possibly self referential)
It turns out Poppycock is actually in this category, derived from Dutch for soft feces.

So now that you've suffered through the entire herd, from the cleaner end to the smellier, you should have a better sense of the finer gradations when you insist that someone is speaking drivel, hot air, and twaddle. Sigh - every round up has a few strays that force you to circle round, and I know I've missed more, but we'll leave well enough alone.

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