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You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: codswallop

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun’s John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:


English, for reasons not hard to fathom, offers numerous words for nonsense: balderdash, blather, bunkum (originally buncombe), claptrap, drivel, flapdoodle, folderol, hogwash, hokum, humbug, malarkey, poppycock, tommyrot, tosh, trumpery, and twaddle, for a partial listing.

I have always favored the British codswallop (pronounced KAHDZ-wall-ip), partly for euphony. The Online Etymology dictionary dates it to the mid-nineteenth century (but only attests to a 1963 reference) and suggests that the wallop portion is slang for “beer” and surmises that the cods portion could come from “testicles.”

The OED, which agrees on the wallop/beer link, has a citation from 1959, in R. Galton and A. Simpson’s Best of Hancock: “Tony. I was not. Sidney. Don’t give me that old codswallop. You were counting your money.”

Example: From Philip Kennicott’s “Roman Polanski At the Piano, Not Missing a Note,” Washington Post, 2003: “He sets aside the trifles of salon music, the waltzes and short ditties, to write a grand heroic polonaise and thus create a universal music that inspires a transcendental struggle for self-determination. It’s pure codswallop.”

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