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What's the difference between "drivel" and "nonsense"?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Drivel is a type of nonsense: it's generally spoken, usually at length, and it's probably deadly boring. It's different from "babble" in that the person saying it is at least trying to pretend it makes sense, but this is hardly a redeeming feature.

Nonsense, on the other hand, can be written as well as spoken, and it doesn't have to be long or boring. For example, answering "yes" to a question such as "What's your favorite [X]" is nonsensical without being drivel.


childish, silly, or meaningless talk or thinking; nonsense; twaddle


words or language having little or no sense or meaning.

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Thank You, Martha!!! – brilliant Nov 28 '10 at 8:31
Can I ask... how do you know this? Directly from the dictionary, I thought they're exactly the same with no difference. There must be a secret trick right? :D – XPMai Oct 15 '15 at 9:42
@XPMai: Basically, this is something you learn from reading a lot of books. The dictionary definition is never a complete picture, not even if you're reading all of the citations in the full unabridged OED, because not even the unabridged OED can include all instances of a word being used. (Note that in this case I disagree that the dictionary definitions are "exactly the same with no difference"; notice it says "talk or thinking" under drivel, but not under nonsense.) – Marthaª Oct 15 '15 at 14:36
@Marthaª, how do you know the books' grammar are accurate? And in this case, you trust it more than a dictionary. (according to your 1st and 2nd sentence) – XPMai Oct 16 '15 at 14:01
@XPMai: words mean what people use them to mean, if you know what I mean. :) In other words, if enough people use a certain word to mean a certain thing, then that's what it means, even if the dictionary hasn't caught up yet. That said, though, I don't think I'm contradicting the dictionary here; I'm merely supplementing the definition (denotation) with what my experience tells me about usage and connotation. – Marthaª Oct 16 '15 at 14:34

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