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Balderdash & Piffle - Series 1

Balderdash & Piffle explores the hidden histories behind words and phrases, and recruits the nation's help to try to solve some of the most intriguing mysteries in the English language.

The series is presented from Oxford, home of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Victoria Coren. A host of language-lovers will be travelling the world, each on the trail of a different word.

Jerry Hall will be twirling her swizzlestick as she contemplates the origin of the word cocktail, Ian Hislop will be examining the ever-baffling jargon that is management-speak and Daniella Nardini will be get her tongue twisted round a delightful ninety-nine. Ever wondered about ploughman's lunchcodswallop, bingo or boffin? We have the answers. And Germaine Greer tackles that most controversial of c-words - has it always been quite so offensive? 

We're also inviting the whole nation to join the Wordhunt and dig for words and their origins. If members of the public come forward with new evidence about the 50 words and phrases on our target list, their efforts will be immortalised forever in the Oxford English Dictionary. 

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In Balderdash & Piffle Series 1, each episode is themed around a different letter of the Alphabet:

P...  Playwright Mark Ravenhill explores the secret language of POLARI which helped gay men and women communicate secretly from the 30s to 60s, when ‘Bona to vada your dolly old eek’ meant ‘Nice to see your pretty face’. Clarissa Dickson Wright wallows in the rich heritage of the word PIG. From Chaucer’s pig in a poke to today’s pig ignorant, pig ugly and happy as a pig in shit. Adam Hart-Davis tries to find out why things go PEAR-SHAPED. Is it an aeronautical loop-the-loop gone wrong, or the legacy of a Victorian ballooning accident? And Victoria Coren herself goes hunting for the origins of the PLOUGHMAN'S LUNCH, which might sound like traditional fayre but turns out to be a recent cunning concoction.

M...  Ian Hislop rolls up his sleeves and tries to come to grips with one of modern life’s worst maladies: MANAGEMENT SPEAK. Where does it come from? Who’s to blame? What damage does it do? And yet regardless how awful it is, shouldn’t it be in the Oxford English Dictionary? Series presenter Victoria Coren travels the country on the trail of the mysterious origins of the FULL MONTY. Did it first refer to male nudity, an impossibly substantial breakfast, the strategic genius of Field Marshal Montgomery or the full three piece suite from Montague Burton’s? Bettany Hughes wrestles with MAN, a little word with a big history. Older even than Anglo-Saxon, she shows how the word man once united men and women, and reveals its extraordinary ancient connection to the idea of human consciousness. And as the OED prepares an entry for a new word for someone from Sunderland – a MACKEM – we enlist the help of local DJ Mike Elliott and a host of fellow mackems to discover where the term comes from and how old it really is.

N... Why is our favourite ice cream called a NINETY-NINE? Daniella Nardini, who hails from a famous Scots-Italian ice cream dynasty goes on a journey that takes her through ice cream history, Scotland, the Vatican, and Cadbury’s. Balderdash & Piffle’s series presenter Victoria Coren takes a fine toothed comb to the word NIT NURSE. Though NICE is the word that all school teachers ring in red in our homework books, but schoolmaster and critic Jonathan Keates decides to give it a reprieve. And author Giles Milton, of Nathaniel’s Nutmeg fame, explores the mysterious process by which the word NUTMEG developed from a spice to a tricksy football move.

S... Rory McGrath gets the ball rolling with the etymology of SOCCER – is the term from Association Football, from Oxford student slang or can we date it all the way back to the Middle Ages? Along the way he kicks about the whole lexicon of words which lie at the heart of the Beautiful Game – including football. Poet Benjamin Zephaniah travels to Jamaica on the trail of the word SKA – a style of music hugely popular in the early 1960s. Can he get to the bottom of how it got its name, and when the word was first used? SET's entry is the longest in the dictionary – at over 60,000 words it’s as long as a novel. Author and journalist Lynne Truss – scourge of sloppy punctuation and shabby manners – salutes a word that no-one ever looks up but carried a world of meanings. And Victoria Coren herself goes in search of SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND– a familiar phrase but one hardly ever written down. Can she find the evidence that will prove this coded invitation deserves an older place in the dictionary? And will it cut the mustard with the editors at the OED, ultimate guardians of the English language?

C...  Jerry Hall trawls the cocktail bars of America to try to get to the bottom of the word COCKTAIL – a  sophisticated drink with an inelegant name. Germaine Greer considers the most controversial C WORD and asks how an old word with an impeccable pedigree became the most offensive expletive in the English language. In the 1970s Greer tried to reclaim it as a term that should be used freely. Now she’s having second thoughts – but can’t come up with a better word for something the English language needs to describe. Series presenter Victoria Coren recruits the nation’s help to try to solve the mystery of CODSWALLOP  whose origins are unknown. Her hunt takes her from Farleigh Wallop, the seat of the Earl of Portsmouth, to a Yorkshire bottle factory – all by way of Hancock’s Half Hour. But is what she finds mere codswallop or will the OED accept her evidence and rewrite that bit of the dictionary? And when and why did COOL get to be so cool? That’s what saxophonist Courtney Pine goes in search of in New York, tracing the word back from the Beat poets to jazz, and discovering its earliest roots in African-American dialect in the deep South.

B...  Liza Tarbuck checks out the urban myth that the phrase BACK TO SQUARE ONE originated with the first BBC radio commentary of a rugby match.  Or is the phrase in fact a reference to Hopscotch or Snakes and Ladders? Either way the OED has no record of Back to Square One before 1960. The BALTI has been hailed as Britain’s favourite meal, but where does it come from? Tazeen Ahmed goes to visit rival restaurants from Brum’s Balti Triangle as they compete to prove they deserve the title of Balti inventor. Series presenter Victoria Coren investigates BINGO LINGO – not long ago it was common parlance across Britain – almost everyone knew that Kelly’s Eye was number one and two fat ladies 88. But why – and why is it called bingo And who were the first cleverclogs to be dubbed BOFFINS? Felipe Fernandez-Armesto follows a trail which leads to the secret wartime radar research labs at Orford Ness in Suffolk. But given the brilliance of the original boffins, why has the term become a figure of fun? Why do the British always love to sneer at eggheads, brainboxes and bluestockings?

 

This series was made by Takeaway Media, Wingspan's parent company, which Archie ran with Neil Cameron.