On codswallop and the dubious use of Google trends

Picture of a codfish

"This is codswallop!" said the codfish. "We've been overfished and reduced to an internet buzzword!" (Ernst Vikne/Flickr/CC-SA)


If you’re confused at my use of this somewhat arcane term, don’t be.  I’ll explain.

First the definition: according to the OED, codswallop is a middle 20th century slang term meaning “nonsense” or “drivel.”  Its origin, sayeth the OED, is unknown.  That part’s actually interesting — when the OED admits they don’t know where a word came from, you know it’s an obscure word.

Perhaps that’s why so many people are searching the internet for it right now.  Codswallop is one of the internet’s hottest search terms right now.  It’s right behind Bernard Lagat (who won last night’s Wanamaker Mile) and in front of boxer Curtis Stevens who lost his fight against Jesse Brinkley last night.

What tipped this off?  Apparently the BBC recently previewed a documentary on the fishing industry as part of its “Really Disgusting Food” series.  The show stated that 90% of the world’s major fish stocks have vanished, with the others soon to follow.  Cod, the documentary alleges, has all but disappeared.  Predictably, this upset the fishing industry, leading to following headline in Scotland’s Aberdeen Press and Journal: “BBC documentary on fishing dismissed as codswallop.”

So, all of a sudden, the world’s reading a (somewhat) obscure paper because one Scottish copy editor couldn’t resist dipping into the vocab list for a creative headline?

This is what’s driving the trend?

Not really.  I did a search on Twitter for codswallop and found that of the five most recent tweets (all of which had links) led me to:

  1. A definition of the word, with a sales pitch for life insurance
  2. A page titled “A nuclear chance” having nothing to do with the word
  3. A redirect to a MMO site defining the term
  4. An MMO site picking up the same Nuclear topic
  5. The same MMO site as #3

So what’s going on here?  Simple: it’s people riding the trend.  Put a hot word in your blog post or tweet and ride the wave.  It creates its own momentum.

What’s created?  Codswallop.

This one word does encapsulate what’s beautiful and repulsive about the internet.  For so many people online, it’s not about creating actual content.  It’s about driving the traffic to your site, jacking up the page view stats, chasing that fraction of a cent page view.

Granted one has to build an audience.  You can write as much as you want, but if no one’s reading it, then the effort is, I think, questionable.  For me, readers and writers do work together to create meaning.

And by writing this piece, I’m right in the middle of it.  Hopefully it’s more than codswallop.


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