Thursday, March 31, 2011

Use the right word, please

Sometimes of a winter's night when the wind is in the trees, when the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, when the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, I like to curl up in a big chair in front of a dying midnight fire and read my computer's built-in dictionary on my laptop. But then, doesn't everyone?

My dictionary - and maybe yours too! - has a feature called "The Right Word." The purpose of this feature, I'm guessing, is twofold: first, to help you use the word that will best convey your exact meaning, and, second, to stop you from using odd words which are unrelated to what you are trying to say.

This is not an automated feature like Spell Check. My computer, even its dictionary, doesn't yet know in advance what I am writing about, after all. No, this feature appears after the definition of selected words you've looked up. For example, I recently looked up the word "nonsense." I don't remember why I looked that word up. It's one of the few I know how to spell, so that wasn't it. Perhaps I wanted to make sure of the meaning and to verify it wasn't a breed of pig or something. Like Yorkshire, you know? Anyway, after the dictionary gave the various uninspiring definitions for "nonsense", they continued beyond that normal ending and inflicted a list of other words upon my half-asleep brain.

I know you are excited to find out what some of these words are, so I made this post about it. May I continue? I quote now so I can get this right:


"If you write or speak in an obscure, senseless, or unintelligible manner, you'll probably be accused of producing NONSENSE. Nonsense is the most general of these nouns and may refer to behavior as well as what is said, e.g., 'the demonstrators were told in no uncertain terms to stop this nonsense or leave the room.' "

Now I am wondering about what the geek looks like who makes up these inane example sentences in the dictionary and where the ideas for them come from. See, I wouldn't had even let the demonstrators stay in the room even if they DID stop their nonsense. Just on general principles. Well, at least the choice of example gives us a clue about the dictionary example-writing geek: he was in University at Berkeley in 1969. Please don't go away yet, because the next example-word is better than this "most general of these nouns." Hereafter, I am going to add exclamation points after the feature alternative words, just to make them stand out. My view is that they are mostly all interjections, anyway. K?


"Twaddle refers to silly, empty utterances from people who know nothing about a subject but who write or talk about it anyway, e.g., 'I was sick of her twaddle about the dangers of electomagnetic fields.'"

Here I will freely admit I wouldn't have been able to use TWADDLE in a sentence before I read this. I would have guessed it was an obscene insult of some kind. (e.g.) GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE YOU STUPID TWADDLE! But it isn't. Still, if you say this word in front of my sister, I will coldcock you. Just saying.


"(short for 'bunkum') applies to an utterance that strikes the popular fancy even though it is lacking in worth or substance, e.g., 'the speech, which received enthusiastic applause, was pure bunk.' "

Well, I never. I DID know that it wasn't a place people keep their money for safekeeping, but I was leaning more in the direction of a bed for soldiers. I sure didn't know about "bunkum" because that has never been one of my utterances. The last time I heard the word BUNK was at a rodeo. Actually, it wasn't a word, but rather an odd sound that was heard when the bull stepped on the prone cowboy's .... ummm... "lower abdominal area."


"Poppycock applies to nonsense that is full of complex, confused, or cliched ideas, e.g., 'the report was a strange combination of logical thinking and outright poppycock.' "

Picture an accent mark over the e in "cliched" by the way. I can't remember using poppycock much in my normal daily utterances, except maybe to ask someone to pass the popcorn-nuts-brittle fat-snack of the same name that you can buy at Walmart. Or maybe Walgreen's. Something "Wal". E.g., "If you eat all the damn poppycock, I'll make you go to school on Saturday. Don't be a (Yorkshire) pig!"


"Bull is a slang term for deceitful and often boastful writing or speech, e.g., 'he gave them a line of bull.' "

Now, that one I DO utter sometimes. Especially when I am watching Obama give a speech on the TV. Actually, I use the word as an exuberant rebuttal, but I think it still counts as a correct usage utterance instance.


"Perhaps the most insulting of these terms is DRIVEL, which implies a steady flow of inane, idle, or nonsensical speech or writing similar to what might be expected from a very young child or an idiot."

My, that IS insulting. All this time I thought it was something one did with a basketball or that which comes out of one's nose in the winter. When I found out what it really meant, however, my thoughts immediately connected the word with someone who blogs from a dank dark cave. My head even started nodding involuntarily when I made the connection.

I don't know about you, but I was left unsatisfied — like when you have just eaten a big Chinese dinner? Surely, I thought to myself (often I think to myself when the road is a ribbon of moonlight) there must be many more words they could have included in this list. ¿Que, no? Please picture another accent mark over the e again. Odd that I know the proper key combination to make an upside-down question mark, but have never learned to make those little useless accents that foreigners are so fond of. This I also thought to myself, though, rather than actually making an utterance. Here's some of mine that quickly come to mind, that Berkeley Boy left out:

(Please note that some of these are vaguely British-sounding. It isn't really my fault because I have been hanging around with some of them for the past 3 years, and I caught some of that.)

BLARNEY ! (sorry, that was kind of lame)
GAHbuj (New York pronunciation of "garbage")
BS!!!!!!!!! (This also has something to do with a bull.)

I can imagine Shakespeare saying CODSWALLOP!!!!! but being laughed at when he said it.

¿Can you think of any more words that mean NONSENSE!!!! ??????

Please tell me if you know of more examples. Just don't look them up. (That would be BILGE!!!!)

Try to use them in a sentence if you can. Don't just utter the word by itself.

Extra points if you can show me where Dickens used such a word (other than HUMBUG! !)

"BAH" Doesn't count.

Note to self: don't say "stuff and nonsense" ever. It sounds like Aint Bee on Mayberry RFD. Or Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies. In fact, don't even say "nonsense" anymore.


  1. Balderdash and flummery.
    Balderdash and piffle.
    Piffle works on its own but I'm not sure that flummery does. Sometimes maybe.

  2. One of my blog buddies has a blog called "Stuff and Nonsense" - it's actually sort of amazing you aren't a reader.

    I believe I have used poppycock, bull, drivel, rubbish, balderdash, and bilge in my writing. And BS, though without the acronym.

    Other words that come to mind are GIBBERISH! HOKUM! BLATHER! Any are readily used in a sentence, though I'm not going to. I'm sure there are more, but I just got up and I can't think of them off-hand. Perhaps I'll come back.

    There is an excellent book, in my opinion, called "Wicked Words" which is a compendium of curse and insulting words and where they come from. Many of the worst, of course, started out as benign every day words back in the beginnings of our language (as it were, since it's a compendium of things that came before as well). Others were surprisingly recent.


    Examples, since you need them:

    Whenever he started to BABBLE his GIBBERISH, she learned to sift through the BLATHER to separate the HOKUM from the occasional specks of insight. She'd long since learned not to point TRIPE given that, though DRECK, it was still frequently amusing.

    Hope that helped :)

  4. @A. - Those are GOOD! I use flummery frequently, but there's a distinct paucity of piffles in my utterances. I could do with a few more piffles. We all could. Piffles can't be bad, though. :)

    SHEILA! Watch the letter opening or I'll wash it out with Castile Soap. SOAP!!!

  5. @Stephanie Barr - Why would you find that amazing? Is it BS?

    HOKUM! is good. Dreck, I've never heard in that context. I only use it when I say, "I'll be out on the sun dreck if you need me."

    Next project will be to find words that are perfectly legitimate but which SOUND bad.







  7. Clearly the great and the good have been reading your outpourings and today I received this from World Wide Words:

    "No language can ever have too many words with which its speakers may deride an assertion as hogwash, codswallop, baloney, poppycock, twaddle, cobblers, bosh, tosh or stuff and nonsense. "Tilly-vally" is a member of this set..."

    It has, apparently, gone the way of "pshaw" and "fiddle-faddle".

  8. Fiddle-Faddle is a snack too. Like Poppycock. I think more brittle. :)



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