Balderdash & Piffle reveals the hidden histories behind our words, and asks the nation to help solve some of the most intriguing mysteries in the English language, and so help rewrite what’s often called ‘the greatest book in English’, the Oxford English Dictionary.
Ep 1 - ONE SANDWICH SHORT OF A PICNIC – Our strange words and phrases for madness and mental deficiency.
Former psychiatric nurse Jo Brand returns to her old hospital of St Mary’s Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam) to explore how today’s worst insults – moron, idiot, imbecile, cretin – were once official medical diagnoses. She meets the self-styled members of Bonkers Fest, a group of mental health users proud to be mad and keen to reclaim words like nutty and loony and to redefine the word normal. Victoria Coren leads the Wordhunt to try to find early evidence to rewrite the Oxford English Dictionary’s entries for bonkers, one sandwich short of a picnic, and duhbrain. And why on earth do we go bananas?
Ep 2 - SPEND A PENNY AND OTHER EUPHEMISMS – How we tend to prefer to call a spade a shoveling implement, especially if we’re talking about sex, death or going to the toilet.
Arthur Smith tries to get to the bottom of why we call it the loo – and uncovers an intriguing royal connection. Michael Portillo explores the troubling world of military euphemisms –he was Minister for Defence but formerly would have been called Minister for War. But on the battlefield, Portillo believes, soldiers need to disguise the truth. How much better for morale for a fallen comrade to have bought the farm, be pushing up the daisies or simply have gone for a burton than to be dead? Meanwhile Victoria Coren heads to Liverpool in search of early episodes of Z Cars which might have the earliest use of the term a domestic. Plus the Wordhunt tries to push back the history of British glamour and tracks down one of Britain’s pioneering glamour girls.
Ep 3 - WHO WERE THEY? – Tracking down the real people whose names have been immortalized in the dictionary.
The Oxford English Dictionary needs help with some baffling word mysteries. So Victoria Coren goes in search of the real Gordon Bennett. Just what did he do to inspire such exasperation? And does taking the mickey come from cockney rhyming slang and a certain Mickey Bliss? – Adam Hart-Davis steps in to offer a theory of his own. Crime novelist Marcel Theroux tells the compelling but grim story of Sweet FA – that’s Victorian child murder victim ‘sweet’ Fanny Adams. We also hunt for the Mary who inspired the original Bloody Mary cocktail. Plus writer Simon Hoggart raids his mailbag to help the OED out with their new entry for the Christmas round robin.
Ep 4 - X-RATED BALDERDASH – Naughty words are the most thumbed entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, but what do they tell us about our sexual history?
Rowland Rivron goes to Southport to try to find out what dogging is, when it started and why it goes by that name. Victoria Coren goes to Burnham on Sea in Somerset, which the dictionary currently hails as the birthplace of the marital aid. And burlesque star Immodesty Blaize tells the amazing 400-year story of the word for her most essential prop, her merkin (pubic wig). Plus can the Wordhunt find the earliest pole dancing, the first kinky sex or the original wolf-whistle?
Ep 5 - DODGY DEALINGS – How our language loves its villains and their scams.
Madness frontman Suggs is on the trail of the original Jack the Lad, a journey which proves rich in music, film and regency criminal history. Neil Oliver is in Glasgow in search of the original Glasgow kiss – that city’s charming moniker for a head-butt. Just why is Glasgow lingo so tough? And Victoria Coren unearths the original spiv – a con-merchant with a newsstand at Victoria Station 100 years ago. Plus Wordhunters try their luck with twoc and identity theft – will they put one over on the OED three?
Ep 6 - MAN’S BEST FRIEND – ‘dog’ has one of the longest entries in the dictionary – thanks to more than 250 different doggy phrases, but not all of them are particularly friendly.
Clarissa Dickson Wright asks how the dog got its name and why it turned into an insult. And Victoria Coren recruits the help of some of the hundreds of wordhunters who wrote in to tell us that the phrase mucky pup was born long before 1984. As the journey unfolds, it stretches back in time from a long-forgotten Punk anthem to a plastic dog poo to a blossoming romance in a Bournemouth ballroom. Plus an attempt to explain why the dog’s bollocks is a compliment, and to investigate whether notoriously crude Viz magazine really did invent the phrase in the late 1980s.
Ep 7 - PUT DOWNS AND INSULTS – How some of our best loved words are the most cutting.
Though John Prescott recently called the Tories a bunch of tossers across the dispatch box, the word was not deemed unparliamentary language. John Sargeant tells the story of some of the most wounding and effective political insults in history. Victoria Coren investigates two insults today thought relatively mild – plonker and prat. Can we push back their history and can we find out what they really mean? Plus a trip to Yorkshire in the company of Mike Harding and Ian Macmillan to try to solve the intriguing mystery of the wazzock.
Ep 8 - FASHIONISTAS – Exploring the fast moving and sharp tongued language of fashion, its changing tastes and mystery words.
The Wordhunt challenges Victoria Coren with various foot-wear related word-mysteries. When did the stiletto first teeter into our language? Can we find the mother of all trainers? Plus a trail from Japan to the Middle East in search of the original flip flop which leads to a school-girl’s diary and her record of the summer of 1960. Meanwhile Marcus Brigstocke heads to Paris to explain why the French have such a hold on our fashion dictionary, only to discover that haute couture was actually invented in the potato fields of Lincolnshire. And Wordhunter evidence on the shell suit has the OED scratching their heads.
This programme was made by Takeaway Media, Wingspan's parent company which Archie ran with Neil Cameron.