Friday, 6 June 2014

Codswallop - What Is This Old Nonsense?

A portrait of Hiram Codd
Hiram Codd - a true pop star


Noun. Slang. Mid-20th century.
[Origin unknown.]

Nonsense, drivel.

What Is the Origin of Codswallop?

No one knows is the answer, but that doesn't mean there haven't been some jolly interesting suggestions. One suspiciously neat hypothesis is that it comes from the wonderfully named British inventor Hiram Codd who, in the 1870s, patented a type of bottle for storing fizzy drinks. The bottle had a glass marble in the neck which was pushed up by the pressure of the pop, thus sealing the neck and keeping your lemonade fizzy and fresh. To 'open' the bottle, you simply pushed down on the marble to release the pressure, allowing you to drink or pour at your leisure.

To beer drinkers, the attraction of these so-called 'soft drinks', which were too fizzy and (crucially) lacking in alcoholic content, was something of a mystery. As wallop was slang for 'beer', these soft drinks become known as Codd's wallop, and this morphed first into a derogatory term for weak or gassy beer, and then into a word for fizzy drinks generally. And the idea that anyone would choose to drink such (non-alcoholic) products? A damned nonsense, of course!

As charming as this story is, there are problems with it, notably that the word codswallop isn't recorded until the 1950s, which is quite some time after the introduction (and obsolescence) of Codd's revolutionary marble-stoppered bottle. It is possible, of course, that codwallop had been around as a localised term somewhere for the intervening 80 years or so, beerily passed between indignant drinkers until the day that someone sobered up just long enough to put it into print. Or it might just be a load of old codswallop - charming, cervisial, compelling old codswallop, but codswallop all the same ...

An empty Codd bottle shown on its side
A Codd bottle showing the loose marble in its neck
(photo by HMBoo)

Budding etymologists out there - any ideas?

Do please wallop your cod in the comment box below.


  1. The trouble with that explanation is that codswallop doesn't mean stuff of low quality, but nonsense. How about the cod bit being the word we still have which means to tease or fool, and the wallop bit keeping its meaning of to move clumsily? Mr Codd's wallop is a better story, though!

    1. It's definitely one of those stories where the fiction is (probably) better than the truth.