balderdash

“Balderdash” is another word for nonsense, usually senseless talk or writing.

The word first appeared in print in the late 1500s, and meant a frothy liquid; later, an unappetizing mixture of drinks, like milk and beer. The origin is unknown.

The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson defines it as: “Nonsense, senseless jumble of words or ideas. The Danish ‘balder,’ ‘noise, clatter,’ has been suggested as its parent, but this derivation seems doubtful at best.”

The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris says: “balderdash goes back to Shakespeare’s time and originally meant an incongruous mixture of liquors, such as wine mixed with beer. The word gradually came to mean pretentious, bombastic and essentially senseless prose…”

The Victorian historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, writing in a footnote in his History of England from James II, comments: “I am almost ashamed to quote such nauseous balderdash.” 

H. L. Mencken, castigating “the general run of business and professional men” in his book In Defense of Women, said: “Their very capacity to master and retain such balderdash as constitutes their stock in trade is proof of their inferior mentality.”

It has also, oddly, been used as a verb, meaning to adulterate. Tobias Smollett used it in his Travels through France and Italy in 1766 to refer to French wine: “That which is made by the peasants, both red and white, is generally genuine: but the wine-merchants of Nice brew and balderdash, and even mix it with pigeons’ dung and quick-lime.”

Yuck! I may write balderdash, but I’m certainly not going to drink it!

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