What’s the origin of the word folderol

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

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: folderol.

When I re-read the 1963 novel The Group, recently, I was struck by the notion that our collective vocabularies have become less rich over the last 50 years. Does anyone else feel that way?

In this easy-to-read book, I found four words I needed to look up — caracoled, meliorism, perfidious and  sybarite — as well as one I wanted to investigate: folderol.

I knew that the noun folderol meant trivial or nonsensical fuss but I didn’t know the origins of the term. Here is how author Mary McCarthy used it:

If one was not in society, what was the point of the folderol?

I was astonished to learn that the term originated as a nonsense word in the refrain of songs, dating back to 1820. Robert Bell noted these words of an old Yorkshire mummer’s play in his Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry Of England of 1857: “I hope you’ll prove kind with your money and beer, / We shall come no more near you until the next year. /Fal de ral, lal de lal, etc.”

Charles Dickens also used the term in his Sketches By Boz: “Smuggins, after a considerable quantity of coughing by way of symphony, and a most facetious sniff or two, which afford general delight, sings a comic song, with a fal-de-ral — tol-de-ral.


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