Thursday, March 5, 2009


flummery [FLUM-uh-ree]
n. an empty compliment; complete nonsense

[Welsh llymru ("soft jelly from sour oatmeal")]

There are a large number of words in English which mean empty or nonsensical talk, including, of course, flummery. However, only flummery earned its figurative meaning from a typically unsavory British delicacy, called flummery. The food is traditionally a gelatinous porridge made from oatmeal. Gourmands ("people fond of good eating") found flummery so unsatisfying and so tasteless, they came to associate anything which was empty or nonsense with flummery, and from there the word took on its figurative meaning.

Some nearly exact synonyms for flummery are: balderdash ("senseless, stupid, or exaggerated talk or writing; nonsense"); baloney ("nonsense, a euphemism for bullshit"); blather ("nonsensical talk"); bosh ("absurd or foolish talk; nonsense"); claptrap ("pretentious, insincere, or empty language"); falderol ("mere nonsense; foolish talk"); gibberish ("meaningless or unintelligible talk or writing"); hooey ("nonsense"); jargon ("unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish"); poppycock ("senseless talk; nonsense"); prate ("empty, foolish, or trivial talk; idle chatter"); rubbish ("nonsense, as in writing or art"); tommyrot ("nonsense; utter foolishness"); and twaddle ("foolish, trivial, or idle talk").

These near synonyms for flummery are more literally meaningless: babble ("meaningless talk or sounds"); gobbledegook ("unclear, wordy jargon"); jabber ("babbling talk"); Jabberwocky ("a playful imitation of language consisting of invented, meaningless words; nonsense; gibberish"); and mumbo jumbo ("incomprehensible language; gibberish).

Finally, this group of words for flummery imply more deception: hokum ("something apparently impressive or legitimate but actually untrue or insincere; nonsense"); malarkey ("exaggerated or foolish talk, usually intended to deceive"); palaver ("idle chatter intended to charm"); and rodomontade ("pretentious, blustering talk").

David Simon, a former crime beat reporter for the Baltimore Sun, wrote recently in the Washington Post about the flummery he heard from cops:
I could count police commanders who felt it was their duty to demonstrate that crime never occurred in their precincts, desk sergeants who believed that they had a right to arrest and detain citizens without reporting it and, of course, homicide detectives and patrolmen who, when it suited them, argued convincingly that to provide the basic details of any incident might lead to the escape of some heinous felon. Everyone had very good reasons for why nearly every fact about a crime should go unreported. In response to such flummery, I had in my wallet, next to my Baltimore Sun press pass, a business card for Chief Judge Robert F. Sweeney of the Maryland District Court, with his home phone number on the back.

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