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What a load of BS: Q&A with Mark Peters

Terms for bullshit in the English language have grown so vast it has now become a lexicon itself. We talked to Mark Peters, author of Bullshit: A Lexicon, about where the next set of new terms will come from, why most of the words are farm-related, and bullshit in politics.

Words for bullshit seem to swing between single syllable exclamations (Bosh!) and lengthy reduplicative words (arkymalarkey). Is there any explanation for the pattern?

Those are definitely two patterns for BS words. I think the common denominator between those two types is that they’re both satisfying to say, much like the common words bullshit and horseshit. When hearing some BS, it feels good to say “Rot!” or “Bosh!” and it also feels good to later describe it as jibber-jabber or the less-common whitter-whatter. Also, the single-syllable and reduplicative words both tend to sound like nonsense, which is helpful when naming nonsense.

Many of the words for bullshit imply a certain projectile quality. Is this in the nature of bullshit that it can’t be casually passed off but rather expelled by force?

Maybe. Bullshit often has to do with hot air, and a lot of the words for it either describe hot air or have the projectile force you mention. This might have something to do with how bullshit makes people angry. For many BS words, some shouting is implied.

Most of the words for bullshit have farmyard origins. Why don’t we see more urban slang for bullshit? Surely there’s a metaphor in whatever is on the subway pole.

Ha! I don’t know. Maybe that subway pole, gross as it is, still doesn’t seem as repulsive as what comes out of a horse. But there’s always room for more terms, and I’m sure some will pop up.

One of the largest sources for new words in the last twenty years has been technology, but tech has made very little contribution to the bullshit lexicon. Are there any words on the verge of crossing-over?

Not that I’m aware of, though tech terms (and related terminology in marketing and business) are some of the deepest piles of meadow muffins out there today. If you’ve ever lacked the bandwidth to leverage your verticals, you’ve dealt with some classic mumbo jumbo.

You mention a few foreign words that have crossed over into English. Any great idioms for bullshit in other languages?

The best example is from the title of Jag Bhalla’s terrific book I’m Not Hanging Noodles On Your Ears. As that Russian idiom goes, to hang noodles on someone’s ears would be to unload a large pile of bullshit.

It’s election season in the United States. Any bullshit words in politics people should look out for?

Are there any political words that aren’t bullshit? Actually, I think the biggest is America—not because I think my country is bullshit! But it’s word beloved by bloviators and bullshit merchants because it sounds like eagles singing the National Anthem but can be attached to any idea whatsoever. America has appeared in so many campaign slogans over the years because it says nothing. By the way, I’m putting a label on different types of bullshit in a new blog: Bunk and Spinning on the Campaign Trail.

We particularly loved discovering the word psilology in your book. Were there any words that stood out for you?

I really love flubdub for some reason. It’s one of many reduplicative words, but it was new to me, and it’s just a perfect word for BS. I also dig four flusherThat’s a rootin-tootin word Yosemite Sam would love.

Featured image credit: Newtown Bullshit_2 by Travis. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr

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