Words to Love: Let's Talk Nonsense


Anyone of you, dear readers, who’ve been with me for any amount of time will know that I love words. One of the things I enjoy the most about words is tracking them back to their origins. I enjoy doing that with colloquial phrases, too. But, today is all about words. More specifically, today’s all about nonsense. I do so love nonsense. And, as our current culture seems stuck in a rut with the same overused, trite, and crass cliches where heralding nonsense is concerned, I thought I’d trot out some of the lesser known, infrequently used gems that convey the same meaning as the overworked bullsh*t used in so much of the everyday lingo.

Let’s start with piffle


Foolish or empty talk; nonsense, drivel. Also used as an exclamation or retort to express disbelief or disagreement.

Piffle’s my favorite. Really. I use it quite a lot. AND I hope that it makes a comeback, pronto. I still recall with glee how much I enjoyed Mark Strong’s character Nick in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (see post here) using it. He’s speaking with his inamorata, Delysia, and her social secretary, Miss Pettigrew, about a new West End production which Delysia hopes to be cast in (unbeknownst to him). The play is called Pile on the Pepper. Nick dubs it Pile on the Piffle, and, though I know nothing about this West End production (and neither does any other viewer), for some reason, I think his word choice is bang on.  

There’s also this 1914 Ragtime classic, which is a melodious interpretation of what piffle might sound like in music.

I also love how Harriet Vane of Dorothy L. Sayer’s fame says it in regards to Lord Peter Wimsey: 

If anybody does marry you, Peter, it will be for the pleasure of hearing you talk piffle.

Lord Peter Wimsey is divine when it comes to talking piffle. I could listen to him for hours. In fact, I think I have. 


Nonsense, rubbish, humbug.

From piffle, it’s a hop skip and jump down the dictionary entries to poppycock. This is another great one. I particular like how multi-syllabic it is, allowing for thorough and elongated enunciation. 

How many of you remember Disney’s Peter Pan? Well, when Mr. Darling is getting dressed, I distinctly remember him declaring, Poppycock! Absolutely poppycock!

Of course, I also remember it from Robert Donat’s Goodbye Mr. Chips: 

Modern methods! Intensive training! Poppycock! Give a boy a sense of humor and a sense of proportion and he’ll stand up to anything!


A senseless jumble of words; nonsense, trash, spoken or written.

Every time I hear this word, or, rather, read it- as I don’t hear it all too often, I think of it being said like Eulalie MacKenhnie Shinn enunciated Balzac in Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little from the Music Man. I really roll the B-A-L: bbbbaaallll-derdash. 

Less than a minute and half in and you’ll hear Eulalie say Balzac.


Nonsense, rubbish, foolish talk.

On first seeing this, I assumed it was derived from the word bosh, which means contemptible nonsense or foolish talk and opinions. I recall having read bosh eons ago when I was forced to endure Bleak House, my least favorite offering by Dickens. When I looked bish-bosh up in my trusty OED, I saw that I’d made a good assumption. We don’t really know where the bish part came in, but I think it was one of those colloquialisms that arose because people liked the way it trotted off their tongues. (Incidentally, bish has two meanings: the first is an humorous abbreviation for bishop; the second may have some applicability as it means a mistake or blunder. Still, I’ll maintain my supposition that bish-bosh formed purely because of its alliterative nature.)


Now for pish-posh. I have no idea where it originated, though I have tried to discover it. I have a theory that it evolved from pish-pash, which is a sort of meat and rice stew. Pash means a soft and mushy mixture. Pish, on the other hand, is slang for contempt. So, you could deduce that pish-posh came about when the mishmash someone was spouting got held in contempt by another person. Hence: pish-posh.

From what I’ve read in my cursory research, I’ve come to understand that pish-posh is used in a lighthearted manner, such as when you are joshing around with your friends and someone says something absurd. The appropriate response then is pish-posh. But say it with a smile, even if you’re feeling a frisson of contempt.  

From pish-posh, it’s a natural jump to pish-tosh


Unlike pish-posh, pish-tosh is a very serious matter. It should only be used when you thoroughly, inexorable wish to decry someone for his or her ridiculousness. Where pish-posh is whimsical and fun-loving; pish-tosh is a matter of gravity. If you use it with friends who are joking around, you may seriously bring the mood down a peg or two. Pish-tosh is said with the utmost derision. Imagine, if you will, curling your nose in a scowl. Utter contempt. Passionate disdain. In fact, it’s my understanding that the hipsters now use this phrase because pish-posh is too mainstream. 

This is where I learned pish-tosh. Note the excellent usage of poppycock by Niles.

All joking aside, tosh is another slang word, this time, used chiefly in Cricket. It is defined as bosh, trash; nonsense, rubbish, twaddle. Why the various wordy blogs I perused postulated that pish-posh was lighthearted and pish-tosh more serious, I don’t know. Although, I do find the whole theory behind the difference between the two somewhat hilarious. Maybe it’s because one is used in relationship to sports and we all know how seriously people take their sports. One does not joke about nonsense in sports; one gets angry about it instead. 


Senseless, silly, or trifling talk or writing; empty verbosity; dull and trashy statement or discourse; empty commonplace; prosy nonsense.

Since I mentioned it in the above definition, I thought it bared specific mentioning. Twaddle. Another word for nonsense. Another word that can be enunciated. Twaddle. Use it. Oh, and I have to mention the use of the word prosy. Love it. 


Nonsense, drivel.

This one feels like onomatopoeia. Like it’s the sound some sort of aquatic animal makes. Or maybe I’m just thinking about Gollum. Cods-wallop. Cods-wallop

The origin of this word is unknown, although there’s a fun theory behind it. Apparently, back in the 1870s, there was a British soft drink manufacturer named Hiram Codd. It’s postulated that British beer drinkers called his soft drink swill Coddswallop. You see, the word wallop means the series of noisy bubbling motions made by water. The ‘soft drink’ that Codd created was a type of mineral water, and we all know how fizzy mineral water can be. So, codswallop could refer to the bubbly, fizzy water that Codd bottled. There’s no proof that this is the origin, however. 

This story reminds me of all the different conversations I’ve had where macro-brewery beers are sneered upon in favor of IPA and other micro-brewery beers. In fact, I think I should tell some of my hipster friends about this so that they can start calling Budweiser and Guinness and Rolling Rock Codswallop

Well, I’ve reach the end, though there are more words I could list. I’ll give you a couple of honorable mentions: malarky, applesauce, gobbledegook, flannel, hogwash, and blarney

Are there any words you use to call someone out on their nonsense? (I’ll only make one request here- let’s try and keep it clean, please.)