I was surprised to find that the OED had an entry for nurdle, and had never associated it with either tiddlywinks or cricket (see below).

However I feel certain that it originates from a Goon Show script, and found this from Michael Bentine. I remember the hilarity when it was first performed in the 1950s. "Nurdling" referred to an imagined pub game.

Now the Goon Show ended in 1961 - and the first example below is from 1963 - so I am pretty sure, that this is the etymology - and the Oxford English Dictionary should be advised of the etymology.

Does everyone agree about this?

  1. transitive. Tiddlywinks. To shoot (a wink) into a position too close to the pot to be easily potted. Also intransitive.

1963 Winking World No. 4. 11 Nurdled: counter so near the beaker that it is not possible to flick it in.

1984 P. Beale Partridge's Dict. Slang (ed. 8) 1397/1 Nurdle, to play a wink into a position so near the pot it cannot be potted.

1994 Re: Postal Tiddlywinks in alt.games.tiddlywinks (Usenet newsgroup) 7 Nov. Green plays first. Green nurdles under the far side of the pot.

2010 Winking World (Electronic ed.) No. 93. 7/1 If you've tried to pot and missed, there's also a good chance of a wink being nurdled.

  1. transitive. Cricket. colloquial. To work (the ball) away gently, esp. to the leg side; to accumulate runs slowly by this method. Frequently in nudge and nurdle. Also to nurdle one's way and intransitive.

1985 Times (Nexis) 24 Dec. He crept, nudged and nurdled his way towards the total.

1992 Sunday Times (Nexis) 17 May (Sport) Russell, in a two-hour stint, nicked and nurdled to such advantage that 50 priceless runs were added in 20 overs.

1993 Manch. Guardian Weekly (Nexis) 31 Jan. 31 After struggling to locate the next dozen he tried to nurdle Raju's left-arm spin square on the leg side and was trapped in front.

2001 Evening Post (Nottingham) 10 Sept. 48 His hundred came from just 65 balls; Brown wisely electing thereafter to nudge and nurdle the ball into gaps.

  • Anything to do with Rochdale Tiddlywinks perchance? – Lesley Nov 20 '19 at 17:56

World Wide Words appears to agree with you:

It has been claimed that nurdle was coined by the writers of the US TV show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, with farkel, bippy and others.

The true origin, as any Brit of mature years can tell you, was in the crazy mind of Michael Bentine, one of the original Goons and the chief perpetrator of a BBC television show between 1960-64 called It’s a Square World. He invented a spoof pub game, drats, supposedly played by Somerset yokels. It was dangerous, with the main risk being that of nurdling, an unspecified but catastrophic error (“Drat me! He’s Nurdled!!”). It was picked up by scriptwriters Barry Took and Marty Feldman for a fake folk song performed by Rambling Syd Rumpo (Kenneth Williams) in the BBC radio comedy show Round The Horne (“Early one morning / Just as my splod was rising / I heard a maiden scream in the valley below / O don't nurdle me / O never nurdle me / How could you use your cordwangle so!”)

The word entered the American lexicon in 1967 when reports appeared in various US media about a mad pub group in Totton, near Southampton, that actually played Bentine’s game, under the title of the Nurdling Championships.

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  • 3
    +1 I'm sure you are on the right lines. And I do recall that it was on TV, so it could not have been The Goon Show. However my recollection of that pub scene is that the object of the game was to "nurdle". The TV audience never knew what "nurdling" involved. The pub crowd did. But there were a couple of visitors who didn't. No one could see into the room where contestants were making an attempt to "nurdle". After massive noise and commotion behind the closed door, the visitors were anxious to know if he "had nurdled". "No", they were told, "he nurly nurdled". – WS2 Nov 20 '19 at 22:37

Your idea is plausible, since there is a direct connection between tiddlywinks and The Goon Show.

In the book On the Mat by Guy Consterdine (1967), he provides the story of the revitalization of tiddlywinks at the University of Cambridge in the mid-1950s, through the lens of the Cambridge University Tiddlywinks Club (C.U.Tw.C.). While the term nurdle is not used, Consterdine does describe a moment where The Goon Show was invited to play:

The Goons also received a challenge, but in a letter of March 24th [1955] the B.B.C. declined on their behalf; the Goons had dispersed after completing the current series of Goon Shows, and C.U.Tw.C. should try again in October when the Goons would be together once more.

In October 1955 the C.U.Tw.C. attempt to arrange that match:

Early in October Howells sent the Goons a copy of the Thesis, and a renewed challenge for a match “at your own convenience”. The Goons for their part replied that they were not keen to play the match “`at our own convenience’, as you suggest. It is a very small one and we would far rather journey to Cambridge to meet you on your own ground or, if you prefer, at your convenience.” But no match could be arranged before Christmas, and the matter was deferred till the New Year. In the event this produced no match.

Then in the sequel, Winks Rampant (1972), Consterdine describes the arrangement of a match involving the Goons through Prince Philip:

Thus on October 20th Peter Downes, C.U.Tw.C. Secretary, wrote to the Duke of Edinburgh pointing out the headline’s reflection on his integrity, and inviting him to prove his honour at tiddlywinks by raising a team to play Cambridge. The Duke declined the challenge himself, but appointed the Goons as his Royal Champions, and the great match was duly played at the Cambridge Guildhall in March 1958.

There is a long story that is best read in the original source, since the details (including a literal gauntlet mailed by Spike Milligan and much ado) are too funny to retell. The coincidence of time (from initial contact in 1955 to the match in 1958) indicates a plausible connection, though you would still want to nail down exactly which show featured nurdle and rule out other possibilities as much as possible.

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