Lexicon Valley

Flubdub: A Folksy, Rhymy, Awesome Word for BS

Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo

As part of the launch of Bullshit: A Lexicon, Mark Peters is writing a BS word of the day. 

I don’t know if I have a favorite word, but I do have a favorite type of word: reduplicatives.

I’ve loved ‘em ever since I read the word higgledy-piggledy in a Bloom County strip from my childhood, in a bygone era when I had to fight wooly mammoths for newspapers carved on stone tablets.

Reduplication works in several ways, none of which qualify as willy-nilly. Sometimes a whole word is repeated, as in bye-bye, boo-boo, doo-doo, and night-night. Sometimes the vowels change but the rest of the word stays the same, as with the pitter-patter of little feet. The reverse kind of reduplication keeps the vowel but changes the initial consonant, like when things go helter-skelter. And if you want to get Yiddish about it, there’s schm reduplication, as in ‘Winter, schminter!”

(Shameful plug alert: There’s more on all of this reduplication business in my book Bullshit: A Lexicon, which would make a terrific gift for your best friends, close acquaintances, and even hated enemies, because that’s totally what Jesus would do.)

Another reduplicative word is flubdub, which is one of the coolest terms I turned up in my bullshit research. Flubdub isn’t as well-known as other reduplicative words like mumbo jumbo and flimflam, but it damn well should be. Flubdub has been around since the late 1800s, and a 1904 use from the Rochester Post-Express gives a great sense of the word: “There is an immense amount of flubdub and nonsense and gush in this sort of talk.” Flubdub is a plethora of bullshit—maybe a plethora and a half. It’s the kind of BS that often demands more than one BS word, and it often appears in expressions like fuss and flubdub and flubdub and guff.

For an obscure word, flubdub has had a lot of meanings. Flubdub occasionally has a flub-related verb sense, as in “I flubdubbed the answer to that question.” Flubdubbing can mean fooling around, and a flubdub is an apple dumpling. The word can also be an insult. The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) suggests this use is a variation of fussbudget or fuddy-duddy, and this sense of flubdub was once used memorably by Theodore Roosevelt in 1914 about then President Woodrow Wilson, who Roosevelt called a “Byzantine logothete, supported by all the flubdubs, mollycoddles, and flapdoodle pacifists.”

If you love reduplication as much as I do, you’ll be glad to know there are at least three other rhymy words related to ­flubdub: fubdub, flibdib, and fluff-duff. I dare you to work one of those into your next TPS report.

Nonshameful plug alert: If you like folksy words like flubdub, you need to dig deeper into DARE, a collection of American English words that are as local as your favorite craft beer. DARE also needs funding help, so maybe you could support their continued research into this lexically loaded land, with flubdub and fluff-duff for all.

Previously on BS Word of the Day