Codswallop—a load of old or new

Codswallop is slang for nonsense. It is a way of calling something fanciful and untrue without having to resort to the more overtly crude bullshit. Although there is no doubt to its meaning its origins are not clear. It has only been found in written English in the last fifty years.

Wallop has been in English for a considerable time and was borrowed from Old French where it was originally synonymous with gallop. As a noun it means a vigorous blow as in packs a wallop which also is used metaphorically to mean creating a strong impression. It is also a slang word for beer.

Cod is the name of the well known English fish so often used in fish and chips. Its slang use is more vulgar, being used to mean testicle (derived from an obsolete meaning of cod as a bag). Cod has many other slang uses from teasing, to being a hoax or trick or as an adjective meaning sham. Although these are appealing there is no suggested link to wallop.

There is one explanation often put forward for codswallop’s origin but with no real evidence to support it. Since I am quite happy not to let facts get in the way of a good story I shall repeat it.

In the 1870s an English engineer named Hiram Codd patented what has become known as the Codd Bottle. It was a soda water bottle that was sealed using the gas pressure on a marble inside the mouth of the bottle. These were used around the world for selling carbonated soft-drinks.

It is suggested that beer drinkers would insultingly refer to the non-alcoholic drinks sold in these bottles as “Codd’s wallup”, that is as a weak and silly alternative to beer. From this meaning evolved the broader meaning for anything nonsensical.

This is a lovely story but unfortunately there is no recorded use of the word from Mr Codd’s death in 1887 until 1959 (in a script of Hancock’s Half Hour). So dear reader I will leave it up to you to decide whether it is a load of old codswallop or just a bit of new codswallop!