Know nonsense. And 6 of its best synonyms.

Wordymology is a series in which the editors at The Free Dictionary explore the origins of the names of things.
There are many excellent synonyms for nonsense. Here are the six with the most absurdly interesting etymologies.


Around 1820, US congressman Felix Walker set out to convince his constituents in Buncombe County, North Carolina, that he was doing a good job in Washington, D.C., with a long-winded and ill-advised speech “to Buncombe.” His self-congratulatory oration vetoed his popularity with those in attendance (many of them asked him to stop talking and then ultimately walked out), but it also gave the English lexicon several words: “bunkum” (a variant spelling of “Buncombe”); its shortened form, “bunk”; “debunk” (to expose something as bunk); and perhaps also “hokum” (another word for “nonsense,” likely formed by combining “hocus pocus” and “bunkum”).


Apologies to any Toms reading this, but in the 19th century, “tommy” was a term for a simpleton or fool. “Rot,” meanwhile, means “rubbish” or “nonsense.” So “tommyrot,” then, is a double dose of foolishness and nonsense.


There’s no way to put lipstick on this pig: the word “hogwash” means “garbage fed to hogs.” How it became synonymous with “nonsense” is unclear, although it’s not the only piece of trash talk used to dismiss something as ridiculous—think “rubbish” and “garbage.”


If you feel compelled to clap back at “claptrap,” you’re not wrong—“claptrap” is something said or done insincerely, often to win accolades. It comes from a now obsolete usage of the term that meant “a theatrical trick to win applause” (i.e. a trap for claps).


Before it was also a board game, “balderdash” simply meant “nonsense.” The word originated in the 16th century, possibly as an alteration of the Medieval Latin word balductum, meaning “posset.” Posset is a drink of spiced hot milk curdled with ale or wine that seems to have been a medieval DayQuil of sorts. What it has to do with nonsense is unclear—as is its ability to actually cure colds.


There are a few potential explanations for the origins of “poppycock.” None of them involve poppy flowers or roosters, and, actually, they all stink. That's because “poppycock” either comes from a Dutch dialect word (pappekak) meaning “soft excrement,” or from a Dutch word (poppekak) meaning “doll excrement.”
Share this nonsense with your friends!
Get all volumes of The Farlex Grammar Book in paperback or eBook.
Share Tweet