Monday, October 24, 2016


Not a word much in use these days, am I right? Normally, perhaps yes. But I happened to see it in an important judicial ruling just now and it made me wonder where it came from.

An article by Mark Joseph Stern in Slate discusses a recent decision by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker. I had heard about the case before, but I don't think I had learned the outcome. Governor Rick Scott of Florida had refused to extend the registration deadline for voters as Hurricane Matthew bore down on the state, even though he had been the one urging them to flee the storm in the first place. Oh, pish tosh, Governor Scott said (not an exact quote), everyone's had plenty of time to register.

LBJ, MLK and Rosa Parks, singing of Voting Rights Act, 1965

Apparently, Governor Scott has never heard of a little thing known as procrastination. In any case, Judge Walker overruled him. Stern reports that a ton of people took advantage of the extension. Actually quite a bit more than a ton--108,000 people.

Judge Walker:  “This case pits the fundamental right to vote against administrative convenience.” He came down on the side of rights, which can almost seem like a novel position these days. but here's the quote that is behind this blog post.

It has been suggested that the issue of extending the voter registration deadline is about politics. Poppycock. This case is about the right of aspiring eligible voters to register and to have their votes counted. Nothing could be more fundamental to our democracy.

I have just assumed that poppycock was a minced oath of some sort, like saying "Jiminy Cricket!" or  "Gosh darn it!". But thinking about it, I don't know exactly what it would replace. When I think of an image for "poppycock", I tend to have some vague image of popcorn and maybe some kind of peanut brittle.

However, I would be pretty much totally wrong in that. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the best guess is that the word came into American English from Dutch dialect. Pappe means soft food, like our pap, and kak means dung like our, well, you get the idea.

World Wide Words, however, says the Oxford English Dictionary dismisses this idea, but only on a small technicality, not in the broad meaning:

The OED is firm in dismissing one often-heard view of its origin, from the Dutch word pappekak for soft faeces. It says firmly “no such word appears to be attested in Dutch” but points to the very similar word poppekak, which appears only in the old set phrase zo fijn als gemalen poppekak, meaning to show excessive religious zeal, but which literally means “as fine as powdered doll shit”. The word was presumably taken to the USA by Dutch settlers; the scatological associations were lost when the word moved into the English-language community.

Whichever view we take, it's hard to ignore the excremental factor. This apparently hasn't deterred Orville Redenbacher from adopting the word for one of its brands, though. Here's their description since I can't find an available picture to post:

"A scrumptious blend of Orville Redenbacher’s® light, fluffy popcorn and premium whole nuts tossed in a sweet and crunchy glaze made with real butter and brown sugar."

I think I might know where I got my original impression of the meaning.



  1. In his last years my dad was a Poppycock addict, sending his home aide to the grocery store often to keep him supplied. Sad to say, Dad deteriorated to more of a soft Dutch version.

  2. Well, at least he got some enjoyment out of those last years, Nancy. And I guess we're all headed that way, one way or another.

  3. Someone said "poppycock" to me last week, to which I replied, inevitably, "Balderdash." Either that, or the reverse was true.