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Jerry Hall in Balderdash and Piffle

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Balderdash & Piffle viewers get BBC programme of their own as nation goes word crazy

Category: Factual & Arts TV

Date: 20.01.2006
Printable version

The BBC and Oxford English Dictionary today announced the results of the BBC/OED Wordhunt, the national appeal for information about words and phrases that has formed the basis of BBC TWO's hit factual series Balderdash & Piffle.


They also announced that the public response to the Wordhunt during the series has been so overwhelming that the Wordhunt is to be extended and a special Balderdash & Piffle programme will be made for transmission at Easter, featuring the best new evidence sent in by viewers in response to the series.


More than 4,500 members of the public have now joined the Wordhunt and sent in theories and evidence about the words in the series and on the Wordhunt list.


Three thousand of those emails and letters have come in since the broadcasts began with hundreds more coming in daily - motivating the commission of the new programme.


The Wordhunt was launched to help rewrite the OED, which aims to be the definitive record of the English language.


The evidence Wordhunters sent in has so far resulted in 20 entries in the OED being added or adapted, taking into account new evidence found by members of the public.


Amongst the best finds:


The Full Monty The OED had no proof of the phrase before 1985. But wordhunters found a café called The Full Monty in a 1982 Manchester phone directory. The OED's new entry for the phrase favours Montague Burton's three-piece 'full monty' suit as the most likely origin for the phrase. But the OED is asking the public to search for written evidence to prove this theory.


Nit nurse The OED's earliest citation for this was 1985. Wordhunters antedated it a full 43 years to 1942. But can the public do better still?


Codswallop The earliest the OED had for this was 1963. Wordhunters found it in a 1959 episode of Hancock's Half Hour where Sid James says to Tony Hancock: 'Don't give me that old codswallop!'. Why codswallop? Hundreds have suggested the Victorian bottle-maker Hiram Codd, inventor of a particularly nifty bottle design for non-alcoholic wallop (which is slang for beer). But noone has yet managed to prove it.


Something for the weekend The earliest the OED had for this euphemistic phrase for condoms was 1990. Wordhunters found this in a 1972 Monty Python record - specifically 'a herd of zebras running into the chemist to ask for 'Something for the Weekend'. Surely there's even earlier evidence?


Cool The OED couldn't find anyone or anything that was cool (other than 'not hot') before 1948, and thought that the term came from jazz. But helped by wordhunters, Courtney Pine found evidence of 'playing it cool' from a 1933 short story about African-Americans in Florida by Zora Neale Hurston, proving the general use of cool predated the jazz use.


Pass the Parcel Not known by the OED before 1967. Now evidence has been found that the game was thus called in 1954. But can anyone - perhaps by checking their own childhood diary or letters to relatives - show they used the phrase before then?


Ploughman's Lunch The OED had no evidence for this before 1970. With help from Wordhunters, this has now been pushed back to 1960, when documents uncovered at the National Archive from the Milk Marketing Board reveal that the Ploughman's Lunch was invented as a marketing ploy to sell British cheese in pubs.


Management-Speak wasn't in the dictionary at all. Thanks to Ian Hislop's persuasive film for Balderdash & Piffle, it is now.


John Simpson, Chief Editor of the OED, is thrilled with the response. He says: "We asked the public for information on 50 of the OED's biggest word mysteries, and the response has been overwhelming. Most of the words we selected were informal or everyday expressions from the 20th century.


"The original Wordhunt challenge resulted in some remarkable discoveries. Now that the series has been broadcast, yet more information has been pouring in.


"The BBC's short and lively investigative films have struck a chord with viewers: stirring memories and eliciting evidence that further improves our knowledge of many of the Wordhunt words. Thanks to everyone for making it such a success!"


The new evidence sent in by Balderdash and Piffle viewers, which may be presented to the OED in the Easter programme, includes some rather unconventional material:


The earliest evidence the OED have for the noun moonie is 1990. But one woman has sent the Wordhunt a home video from 1986 of a buttock-baring incident accompanied by shrieks of, "You just pulled a moonie".


Another wordhunter has sent in a school exercise book from 1992 in which he scribbled the phrase, "Karen is a total minger". The earliest knowledge the OED have of minger is 1995.


Following the admission of Mackems (people from Sunderland and Sunderland FC fans) into the OED - a process assisted by the original Wordhunt - emails have flooded in demanding similar acknowledgement of Bristol's "gasheads", Sheffield's "dee-dars", and even Wolverhampton's "yamyams". Do the folks from your town have their own colourful collective noun, and the printed evidence to prove it?


Some Wordhunt mysteries remain unsolved:


Can you prove you bonked before 1975?


Did you play on a bouncy castle before 1986?


Did you sport a mullet hairstyle before 1994 - and why was it named after a fish?


Any evidence for posh before 1915 or proof that it was (or wasn't) Port Out, Starboard Home?


Did anyone you know pop their clogs before 1977, and why?


To join the Wordhunt simply go to


Notes to Editors


Throughout the series, members of the public have also been able to access the Oxford English Dictionary online and examine any words beginning with that week's letter.


So far they've been looking at more than 50,000 dictionary pages a week. And from 10.00pm on Monday 23 January, (after the S-words programme) the entire OED - all 643,513 words - can be freely explored for one week, giving everyone unprecedented access to explore the most complete and detailed dictionary in any language.


Balderdash & Piffle is an independent production by Takeaway Media for the BBC.


An accompanying book is available, Balderdash & Piffle by Alex Games published by BBC Books.


The OED, published by Oxford University Press, is the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium.


It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of 600,000 words, both present and past. It traces the usage of words through 2.5 million quotations from a wide range of international English language sources, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books.


The OED covers words from across the English-speaking world, from North America to South Africa, from Australia and New Zealand to the Caribbean.


It also offers the best in etymological analysis and in listing of variant spellings, and it shows pronunciation using the International Phonetic Alphabet.


The Second Edition of the OED is available as a 20-volume print edition, on CD-ROM, and now also online at






Category: Factual & Arts TV

Date: 20.01.2006
Printable version


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