New word for me: argle-bargle

I didn’t bother reading Scalia’s dissenting opinion in yesterday’s DOMA decision, but after hearing about his creative word usage, I had to go back and check it out. This marks the first time I have ever searched a PDF for the term “argle-bargle.”

Here it is, on page 22 of Scalia’s dissent:

As I have said, the real rationale of today’s opinion, whatever disappearing trail of its legalistic argle-bargle one chooses to follow, is that DOMA is motivated by “ ‘bare . . . desire to harm’” couples in same-sex marriages.

I find Scalia to be a bit of a toad, but today I’m grateful to him for enlightening me as to the existence of this fabulous word. However, I’m finding conflicting opinions as to what it actually means.

Judging from context, Scalia is using it to mean “flimflam” or, as my MacBook’s built-in dictionary defines it, “copious but meaningless talk or writing; nonsense.”

Yet I can’t find that definition anywhere else. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary points out that it’s a variation of “argy-bargy” — which, cool, two new words at one shot! — and defines it as “a lively discussion.” confirms that it means “argy-bargy” or “a wrangling argument or verbal dispute.”

Turning to hardcopy sources, my Random House Unabridged says it means to argue or haggle. And my personal source-to-end-all-sources, the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, says it means to “exchange (words) in argument” and refers me to argy-bargy, which it defines as “dispute, wrangle.”

Seems to me that “legalistic argle-bargle” is exactly what Supreme Court justices are supposed to be engaging in. Perhaps Scalia should have checked a few more dictionaries.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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8 Responses to New word for me: argle-bargle

  1. karmami says:

    As I am reading this article that you posted my dark sense of humor could not help myself to think of the word “whimsical”…like the songs and dances of the colorful fairies lol…then I really and truly laughed my backside off no fun intended . Lol

  2. Zann says:

    Language Log took this one on this morning ( I found it interesting.

  3. liamwrites says:

    I i was like when former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau called someone’s comments “fuddle duddle.” Works as a censored curse and/or denoting it as meaningless.

  4. Ana_ñ says:

    With my bad English, I have to look up words very frequently, but always make an intuitive guess before. In this case, my guess for “argle-bargle” was: a rhymed derivative of “argue” and “bargain”. I wasn’t far wrong! 🙂

  5. Mel says:

    My dear old Gran used this term..”argy-bargy” all the time..especially in relation to neighbourhood exchanges ( usually heated!!) over the garden fence, in post war Britain!! Also her heartfelt ” What a Palaver!!” …usually signaled any ongoing neighbourhood argy-bargy in which she was not actively engaged!! Take a gander at Foyle’s Philavery by Christopher Foyle. It is a treasure trove of interesting words.

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