“Argle” appears in the late 1500s and means to argue obstinately, to wrangle, possibly a popular perversion of “argue,” or confusion of that word with “haggle.”

“Argle-bargle” is Scottish and first appeared in 1808 in Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Tongue. A close variant, “aurgle-bargain,” dates all the way back to 1720. The Scots seem to have a penchant for reduplication. Other examples are: “catter-batter” (to wrangle), “crinkie-winkie” (a contention), “hackum-plackum” (to barter).

As far as we know, “bargy” and “bargle” never existed as independent words. They only appeared as the doubling, or reduplication, of “argy” and “argle.”

An “argle-bargle” has been described  as a relatively amicable, if somewhat heated, argument, somewhere between a spirited debate and a fistfight. 

From Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886): “Last night ye haggled and argle-bargled like an apple-wife.” An apple-wife was a seller of apples from a stall, reputed to be just as argumentative and foul-tongued as her male counterparts.

And from Margaret Ogilvy, by J M Barrie (1896): “Ten minutes at the least did she stand at the door argy-bargying with that man.”

The English also enjoy the fun of reduplication. Some examples with conventional rhyming are: super-duper and namby-pamby. Examples of those that modify an internal vowel are: dilly-dally, shilly-shally, wishy-washy, and zig-zag.

Okay. Being namby-pamby, I will shilly-shally around the kitchen, too wishy-washy to decide what to cook. Then I’ll zig-zag to the phone and call a super-duper delivery service.


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  One thought on “argle-bargle

  1. July 26, 2020 at 8:22 am

    I would hardly call you mamby-pamby Lea! I do enjoy reading your blog here.Thanks for the all the words and their backgrounds.


  2. Leanne Taylor
    July 26, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    :-)) Lol
    You always give us something interesting — and often funnybone-tickleing – – to read.
    Thank you, Lea!

    Been outside to check on how my mandevilla is taking the 91° temperature.
    My new baby looks fine – – but I think my itty bitty brain melted!

    Can you say any of these reduplications 5 times – – lickety-split* – – without busting a gut?
    Lol :-))

    * Does this count as a reduplication?
    Does “rinky-dink”? Or does it have to be “rinky dinky”?


  3. Jean Ross
    July 28, 2020 at 9:40 am

    Hello, I really enjoy all your posts! You obviously do a tremondous amount of research tracking down the origins of all these phrases. Very interesting and informative. Well done!


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