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.