poppycock

This is one of those words that seem made to be said by proper, if pertinacious, older ladies. Undoubtedly this is the influence of poppy, as cock by itself is less dainty, even if just referring to a spigot or rooster, though the clear echo of peacock adds prettiness. The brand of mixed popcorn and nuts that takes the name also gives it a pleasant air. And the shape of it is inoffensive, almost like modern art or modern music, the echoing p shapes in the first half, destemmed and flipped to the c‘s in the second, all with a roundness repeated and realized in the o‘s, and with a y forking in the middle and the k stopping it all abruptly at the end. The act of saying it is like music too, two quick claps on one side of a concert hall echoed quickly on the other: [p] [p] … [k] [k]. Such a fun word for nonsense. But oh, if those proper ladies and the popcorn makers had to confront its origins! It’s an American borrowing of a Dutch word. Many sources will tell you it comes from pappekak, with pappe meaning something like “soft” and kak meaning (ahem) “excrement.” The Oxford English Dictionary differs, on the grounds that the word as such is not attested in Dutch, and takes it instead from a phrase referring to religious zealots, zo fijn als gemalen poppekak, literally “as fine as powdered doll poo.” The form would seem to have been borrowed with only moderate regard to the sense. But of course that could all be poppycock, too.

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