What’s the origin of the word ‘codswallop’?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: codswallop…

I’ve known the expression, “that’s a load of codswallop” since I was a child, likely on account of my father’s British heritage. But I’ve never understood the origin of the term.

I encountered it again recently in the entertaining novel More Miracle Than Bird, by Alice Miller, a fictionalized retelling of the relationship — and ultimate marriage — between W. B. Yeats and Georgie Hyde-Lees.

Here is how Miller used the word:

It will probably be codswallop but maybe entertaining codswallop.

Some synonyms for the word (some of the entertaining in themselves) are: balderdashbaloney, blarneyblather, bunkum, claptrap, drivel, fiddlesticks, foolishness, guff, hogwash, hokum, hooey, horsefeathers, malarkey, nonsense, piffle, poppycock, rubbish, silliness and twaddle.

The etymology is fascinating. There is a folk legend that it dates back to the 1870s and is named for Hiram Codd, a British soft drink maker, known for its eponymous Codd-neck bottle, with a marble in the neck (to contain the carbonation.) the suggestion that codswallop is a derisive term for soft drinks by beer drinkers, from Codd’s + wallop (slang for beer).

Sadly, there is no evidence that early uses had this sense, as the slang wallop (beer) comes later than Codd’s lifetime, and  initial spellings do not reflect such a derivation.

First attested in 1959, codswallop appears to be a relatively young term, perhaps originating from from wallop (beer),  and cod in one of its various senses, perhaps “testicles.” (As in a codpiece.) A 1966 citation in the Oxford English Dictionary spells it cod’s wallop.

For more reflections on the origin of the term, see a fascinating discussion in the Guardian.

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