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Flummadiddle, skimble-skamble, and other arkymalarky

By Mark Peters

I love bullshit.

Perhaps I should clarify. It’s not pure, unadulterated bullshit I enjoy (or even the hard-to-find alternative, adulterated bullshit). I agree with the great George Carlin, who said, “It’s all bullshit, and it’s bad for ya.” Hard to argue with that.

What I love is the enormous lexicon of words for bullshit and nonsense. Studies show they are all wonderful words. Piffle! Tommyrot! Poppycock! Truthiness! Balderdash! Rot! Crapola! Hogwash! Intellectual black holes! Using a vivid, meaty word like gobbledygook almost makes it worth dealing with gobbledygook itself. A few years ago in this very blog, I looked at some of these words.

Three years later, I’m older, wiser, and no less enamored of BS and all BS-like terms. This time, instead of looking at the origin stories of terms you already know, I’m going to share some terms I bet you don’t know: bullshit obscurities, some of which I’d never have found without the help of newly published sources, like Green’s Dictionary of Slang, the magnificent work of Mr. Slang, Jonathon Green. I implore you: give these words a home in your doomsday prophesies and cupcake recipes. They should be useful. You can never, ever have enough words for bullshit.

Here’s a spin on flummery that would make Ned Flanders proud. Like flummery, flummadiddle (also spelled flummerdiddle and flummydiddle) has been used to mean either horsefeathers or something that would taste just as awful, as in this 1872 OED example: “Flummadiddle consists of stale bread, pork-fat, molasses, cinnamon, allspice, [etc.]; by the aid of these materials a kind of mush is made, which is baked in the oven and brought to the table hot and brown.” Mmm, mush. No wonder this diddly-fied version of flummery works so well when describing mushy thoughts and words, as in this 1854 use: “What does she want of any more flummerdiddle notions?” Bonus BS: this word is related to fadoodle and fairydiddle.

One of my top five favorite BS words has always been malarkey, so I had at least two wordgasms when I found this variation in Green’s. Green spots two uses from the 1930’s and 40’s, both by Carl Sandberg, so this term might be an invention of his. Surely it deserves broader use, partly because it has the reduplication that makes jibber-jabber, mumbo-jumbo, and pishery-pashery such fitting words for fiddle-faddle. Yet another BS-y reduplicative term has a Shakespearian résumé: skimble-skamble appeared in Henry IV: “Such a deale of skimble scamble stuffe, As puts me from my faith.”

Green notes that arkymalarky may be related to ackamarackus, which the OED defines as “Something regarded as pretentious nonsense; something intended to deceive; humbug.” Apparently, giving someone the old ackamarackus is like giving them the old okey-doke: a maneuver perfected by politicians and other flim-flammers.

donkey dust
This Massachusetts term—recorded in the Dictionary of American Regional English—is as fun to say as horse hockey, because of the alliteration and preposterousness. It reminds me of barnyard confetti and meadow mayonnaise, two Australian terms for BS I don’t recommend throwing at a party or putting on a sandwich.

This word was used in the old Battlestar Galactica, when Starbuck was a dude and the Cylons were not leggy supermodels. In the very first episode, “Saga of a Star World” (from the distant era of 1978), Starbuck tells Cassiopeia “You certainly have a way of cutting through the felgercarb.” Just as BSG’s frak euphemized the f-word, felgercarb was a form of BS. Unlike frak, felgercarb wasn’t revived in the recent version of the show (except once as the name of a toothpaste brand). This word has not been very successful and has no ring to it at all, but it does turn up once in awhile; here’s a 2008 mention of “global warming felgercarb” that is itself an example of felgercarb.

Speaking of sci-fi, this exclamation was used by the character known only as Mom on Futurama. No kindly nurturer, Mom is the merciless matriarch whose corporate machinations in the year 3000 make today’s MBA-propelled greedbags seem like kittens playing with yarn. Futurama has been a source of many BS words, most often used by the doddering Professor Farnsworth, who has yelled blithery-poop, drivel-poop, baldercrap, and twaddle-cock while dismissing the crapspackle of others.

Jackson Pollocks

Yet another term from Green’s, this one dips into the deep waters of British rhyming slang. It has two meanings. First, if you were to kick me in the Jackson Pollocks, I would suffer a severe owie of the male region. But the term is used in the realm of balderdash too, in the phrase “That’s a load of Jackson Pollocks!” On behalf of the English language, I apologize to the family of Mr. Pollock.

The idea that BS is literally nauseating can be seen in words like drivel and hogwash, plus the lesser known balductum. In the 1400’s, the OED spots this meaty, Latin-ish term with the meaning “A posset, hot milk curdled with ale or wine.” By the 1500’s, it also meant “A farrago of words; trash, balderdash.” An 1822 citation from Green’s adds some background: “A mediaeval word meaning literally buttermilk, but it was used apparently in a burlesque sense for a paltry affected writer, and also for his compositions.”

On that note, I apologize for my own balductum. I’m so sorry. I just can’t get enough flapdoodle, giffle-gaffle, and flitter-tripe.

Mark Peters is a lexicographer, humorist, rabid tweeter, language columnist for Visual Thesaurus, and the blogger behind The Rosa Parks of Blogs and The Pancake Proverbs.

Recent Comments

  1. […] The Virtual Linguist engaged in a taming of the various meanings of shrew, which originally referred to a “wicked, evil-disposed or malignant man,” and in “the 14th and 15th centuries. . .was applied to the Devil.”  The Wrdnrd enjoyed some sake terms, while Mark Peters over at Oxford University Press blog informed us he likes bullshit and other slang. […]

  2. Karen McVicker

    Chortle. Donkey dust may be a new fave euphemism.

  3. […] material for the columns.” There’s a lot of cross-pollination between reduplicative words and BS euphemisms. Reduplication is a natural way of describing […]

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