“Argle bargle”

In his always illuminating Baltimore Sun blog, “You don’t Say,” John McIntyre offers a word of the week. Today, he presents a British phrase, argle-bargle, and notes:

Originally meaning a squabble, argument, or bandying of words–it rises from a Scottish variant of argue–its meaning has broadened to include meaningless talk or writing, nonsense. There’s a variant, argy-bargy.

Naturally, this led me to look into the investigate the popularity of argle-bargle and argy-bargy in these parts. They pop up here and there. One veritable fount of spottings is the right-wing National Review, especially its writer Jonah Goldberg, who prefers the argy-bargy form and uses it incessantly. One time he criticized Attorney General Eric Holder because “he thinks this isn’t nearly enough racial argy-bargy”; another, he ripped an Obama energy ad for “endless stream of intellectual jibber-jabber and nonsensical argy-bargy.”

Elsewhere, the terms appear only intermittently. A couple of years ago, Alex Beam wrote in a New York Times op-ed about conflicts in the Episcopal church, “The schismatics invoke endless biblical argle-bargle to defend their un-Christian bigotry.” And just last week, a commenter on the Portland (Oregon) Mercury website humorously responded to a silly season article about how breakfast is overrated: “Shame on you and all those who truck with such joy-murdering argle-bargle.”

Bottom line, there is life in argle-bargle (I like that version better), so I say have some fun with it. Except for you, Goldberg. You are grounded.

29 thoughts on ““Argle bargle”

  1. Speaking of “meaningless talk,” please permit me to go OT on this one.
    I hope other Yanks are enjoying the BritCom, “TWENTY TWELVE” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-Twelve, currently presenting as part of BBC America’s “Ministry of Laughs”) as much as I am. IMO, it scripts the best meaningless government gobbledygook since “Yes, Minister.”

  2. A related Britishism, referring to constant meaningless jabber or idle talk is “rabbit”. Don’t think I’ve ever heard any Americans use that one, but it’s hard to search for because it’s such a common word in general.

    “Argybargy” was of course the name of a classic album, originally released in 1980, by the English pop band Squeeze

    1. I should also add that a more learnedly Hebraic version of argy-bargy might be “tohubohu” – I have no idea whether that one is more common in Britain that in North America, I imagine it’s equally rare on both sides of the Atlantic.

  3. I’ve lived in Scotland 20 years now and don’t recall ever heard anyone say “Argle bargle” – or, for that matter, ever recall having seen it in print.

    Argy Bargy also seems to be used differently here too. Like Jill Appenzeller’s example above, it’s used to mean a certain amount of physical, or verbal, pushing and shoving, rather than one-sided bluster. You cannot stand up and argy-bargy by yourself. There have to be at least two people involved. (And they have to disagree.)

  4. My only experience of “argy-bargy” popped up in the late 70s, when a newspaper reporter who did a student internship with the BBC, used it in conversation.

  5. Like the previous commenter, whilst argy bargy is perfectly commonplace English, I’ve never EVER heard anyone say argle bargle. Indeed the latter sounded so strange I ended up checking my copy of the Shorter OED, which simply says: argle-bargle = argy-bargy

  6. I’ve also never heard argle-bargle. (I’m English). Argy-bargy is much the commoner phrase, and more euphonious (as long as it’s pronounced with a soft g, e.g. how we used to refer to Argentinians: Argies.)

  7. “rabbit” is rhyming slang – “rabbit and pork” = “talk”. And can I add my (English) voice to those who say they’ve never heard of “argle-bargle”, only “argy bargy”.

    If you haul freight
    On the River Plate
    Are you an Argie

  8. English, 57 years old, and I think the only use of argle-bargle I’ve ever seen was in “Bored of the Rings” by Harvard Lampoon (& not British)

    And yes, argie-bargie is a quarrel or dispute, which can be physical.

  9. For a time after the Falklands War (1982, UK vs Argentina) the Argentinians were known locally (England) as the Argie Bargies due to similarity of name and what they were up to.

  10. I’m British and have lived in the UK all my life, I have never heard anyone use ‘argle bargle’! ‘Argy bargy’ we use a lot, but I agree it is used more to depict some kind of confrontation between two people, often physical.

  11. The late, great Scottish rugby union commentator Bill McLaren was fond of describing the fights that would occasionally break out between players on field as “a wee bit of argy-bargy”.

  12. Are you sure it’s not a typo “argie bargie” e.g. a problem with i / l ?

    Argy Bargy is a very common phrase, Argle Bargle doesn’t exist.

  13. Also a Brit who is 52 and has a semi-autistic obsession with words and has never heard arglebargle used in conversation or writing and also misread it as argie-bargie which would be a fracas, brawl or particularly noisy and violent verbal argument and is quite common particularly in London – IIRC the curry house in the popular BBC soap Eastenders is for instance called the Argie-Bargie (or perhaps -Bhaji I’ve never actually seen it spelled).

    I do however remember Arglebargle appearing in the 1969 Harvard Lampoon spoof Bored of the Rings:

    “In the same year, the 1,623rd year of the Third Age, the Naugahyde brothers, Brasso and Drano, led a large following of boggies across the Gallowine River disguised as a band of itinerant graverobbers and took control from the high King at Ribroast. *”
    “*Either Arglebargle IV or someone else.”

    Which brilliantly apes Tolkien’s interminable appendices which do include two kings of Arthedain named Argeleb who are ancestors of Aragorn and many other Args,

    I respectfully submit therefore that this may not in fact be a Britishism at all.

  14. I would like to add my tuppence worth here. I had never heard or seen “argke bargle” before either. Argie (argy?) bargie yes. As a Brit I would like to add that argie bargie implies some sort of non-serious physical pushing and shoving with the argument.

  15. As most of the other Btits are saying, I’ve never heard of “argle bargle”! Never even read it anywhere until now! Argie Bargie is a very common one though!

  16. Am British, (Welsh, actually) and have never, never, never, ever heard the words argle bargle….ANYWHERE in speech, tv/film/radio and I too thought it was a mis-print. It is always argy-bargy or argie-bargie and I’ve always thought it was more in use in the London area….we all know it, but it’s the sort of term you’d hear frequently in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ (popular London based comedy.)

  17. Stephen King’s novel “The Tommyknockers” is the only place I have ever seen “arglebargle.” It’s used by the central character as a drunken joke of a pronunciation of two character names (Arburg and McArdle, which the drunk poet spits out as Arglebargle McArglebargle).I Ihad always thought he made it up.

  18. I’m British (or should I say English….) but I’ve only come across Argle-Bargle once -in Bruce Bethke’s novel ‘Headcrash’. He uses it as the name of a basic text compression method. (It’s an early Internet set SF novel -well worth a read).

  19. For all who never heard of “argle” I checked thumbs up. Since John M claims argle bargle is for nonsense writing I say he’s rabbiting on about a completely different word of suspect origin (if any) so don’t let him create a veritable argie bargie of comments..which I suspect was the goal of his submission – especially the throw away reference to argie bargie being a variant, as in distant cousin we don’t speak about. As for rabbiting on, it is, so far as I know, used widely – certainly everyone I know uses it, and me too, and cockney we can’t claim.

  20. The OED2 (1933) provides three citations for argle-bargle, all of them British, between 1872 and 1927. Google Ngrams (using the British English corpus) shows that argle-bargle and argy-bargy are about equally common in books until 1950, when argle-bargle falls off rapidly and argy-bargy takes off. Note that argle and argle-bargle are also verbs meaning ‘argue, contend, wrangle’. All these forms are of Scots origin.

  21. In contrast to nearly everyone, I’ve (American) never heard argy-bargy, I’ve ONLY heard argle-bargle. Also seen it in FB memes. I think in the Simpsons, but not sure. Been around for a few years but not very common in my experience. But now it’s 2021. 🙂

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