34

What is a reasonable formal alternative to 'bullshit'?

For example:

Bob isn't making a very good argument. In fact everything he says is bullshit.

What can 'bullshit' be replaced with that is a reasonable facsimile of what is intended without being tendentious?


Bullshit - definition and etymology

"eloquent and insincere rhetoric," 1915, American English slang; see bull (n.1) + shit (n.), probably because it smells. But bull in the sense of "trivial or false statements" (1914), which usually is associated with this, might be a continuation of Middle English bull "false talk, fraud" (see bull (n.3)).

Frankfurter wrote an entire (but slim) monograph discussing its nuances spending the first 20 of 67 pages not even coming to a definition.

His definition of 'bullshit' was statements of potential facts about which the utterer does not care of its truth. That is, bullshit is somewhere off to the side from truth and lies, where the speaker knows what is correct and either says something concordant or not with that. Bullshit can be true or false; the point, to the speaker, is that they don't know or care about its truth value, just that it convinces someone (it may end up convincing the speaker!).

Others have slightly different ontologies for the word, maintaining the lack of knowledge, but instead of trying to convince others, it is merely uttered to sound a certain way, to sound like it is has import, but fails to do so on inspection. Late-night THC enhanced pseudo-intellectual conversations, Sokal hoax texts, and AI chatbot conversations. Meaningful at first glance but meaningless on inspection.

Either way, the term bullshit is used to call someone out on their statements without accusing them of something so intentionally heinous as lying.

The difficulty with the term 'bullshit' is that it points to very useful concepts but is somewhat taboo. I am looking for a term that captures the meaning but not the taboo, can be used in formal or otherwise taboo-adverse situations.

There are many possible alternatives but they all seem to fall short in numerous ways.

There are the quaint folksisms and minced oaths of:

balderdash, baloney, blarney, blather, bosh, bull, buncombe, bunk, bunkum, claptrap, codswallop, flap-doodle, flim-flam, flummery, fustian, gobbledygook, guff, hokum, hooey, horse-hockey, humbug, malarkey, phooey, piffle, poppycock, prattle, rigamarole, tommyrot, tosh, twaddle.

These are all nonsense words - they don't just mean nonsense, they -are- nonsense. They stand out like twee bowdlerizations of nothing that take you right out of the discourse into a drunk undertaker at a wedding's cash free bar. They all sound like they're from the same Lewis Carroll poem, but if he grew up in Kansas in the 1890's.

There are the waste/offal/excrement metaphors of:

air, babble, bilge, bluster, claptrap, crap, crock, drivel, garbage, gibberish, hogwash, horsefeathers, hot air, pablum, rot, rubbish, scat, trash, tripe, wind.

implying empty worthlessness, which bullshit certainly is, but these words connote something less taboo but still noticeably informal.

And then there is the single, literal:

nonsense.

The latter is the go-to for replacing 'bullshit' in polite company. It certainly fits the second definition, words that sound meaningful but on reflection are not. But many things called bullshit these days is of the first kind, intended to convince whatever the truth value. Very meaningful, just not with any belief on the speaker's part.

Is there an alternative to 'bullshit' that fills all these (admittedly negative) criteria? Works in formal situations, is not cutesy or metaphorical, is truth-agnostic, is not one of the above words?

Of course, one may suggest one of the above words in case I am wrong about them, but in any case give a justification as to why. And noun, verb, adjective, interjection, whatever, is OK as long as it fits in meaning.

Please, no malarkey. That is, no words from the malarkey list. They are awful.


As usual a single word is nice but not necessary, but a proverb is too much.

23 Answers 23

24

I see two useful approaches here. First, something like "Everything he says is unfounded," or "His whole essay is incoherent." These two suggest Bob is making a weak, ineffective argument. From Collins Dictionary:

If you describe a rumour, belief, or feeling as unfounded, you mean that it is wrong and is not based on facts or evidence.

If someone is incoherent, they are talking in a confused and unclear way.

If you say that something such as a policy is incoherent, you are criticizing it because the different parts of it do not fit together properly.

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/incoherent https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/unfounded

If you want something a little more directly critical but still formally phrased, you could call his bullshit "empty rhetoric." This suggests he's deliberately using linguistic tricks to obscure a lack of content. That's appropriate for a formal register, but it does come across more like accusing Bob of deliberately bullshitting, rather than simply failing to make a good argument.

Collins again, 'rhetoric' definition sense 4:

  1. speech or discourse that pretends to significance but lacks true meaning

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/rhetoric

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  • :I think that "rhetoric" is about as close a synonym as is going to be found. – Greybeard Feb 21 at 9:38
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    I find it hard to use 'rhetoric' alone (sense 4 (can you add links?)), but that might work. 'empty rhetoric' feels better to me. 'Incoherent' is really close to the second meaning I give (and so is the closest so far). Would 'equivocation' work for Frankfurter's use? – Mitch Feb 21 at 13:18
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    I wouldn't use equivocation for that; I'd use it for the parallel but opposite strategy, where you make sure you don't say anything untrue by minimising the amount of information you communicate. "Did you eat my apple?" "It certainly looks like your apple has been eaten" is an equivocation, according to my interpretation (a trivial response that avoids communicating anything), whereas a bullshit response would be something more like "Can't have been me, I'm allergic to apples," which contains an unequivocal, potentially convincing statement. – LizWeir Feb 21 at 13:35
  • Thanks for the links. Also, for others answering, this answer has the right register I'm looking for. – Mitch Feb 21 at 13:47
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    Upvoted for empty rhetoric which is probably the best non-crass approximation of bullshit. – called2voyage Feb 21 at 16:50
44

"Nonsense" would be my first choice too. "Absurd nonsense" is even stronger.

"Nonsensical" might be a good choice too.

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/nonsensical

If you say that something is nonsensical, you think it is stupid, ridiculous, or untrue.

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  • 7
    I can't agree that "nonsense" is even close to "bullshit" - bullshit has to have some initial credibility - but it is no easy task to summarise accurately Frankfurter's monograph in a word or two, and I rather suspect that if he had been able to do it, he would have done. I would suggest "Superficial plausibility." – Greybeard Feb 20 at 21:28
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    'Nonsense' is close, and so is 'absurd' (are those pleonastic?) but bullshit encompasses a lot more and is usually meaningful, sometimes logical sometimes not holding together. – Mitch Feb 21 at 2:30
  • How could you have nonsense that wasn't absurd? – CJ Dennis Feb 21 at 5:40
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    @Greybeard: I disagree. BS need not have initial plausibility (at least to a neutral observer), though at this time of the morning I can't think of an example that doesn't involve current politics :-( – jamesqf Feb 21 at 17:02
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    @Greybeard wrote "...has to have some initial credibility" I have never known anyone to assume BS should have some initial credibility in the manner the question explains. However, since the OP desires that, perhaps Packard could add a secondary part which attaches this idea. "... absurd nonsense on any close inspection." – Aaron Feb 21 at 17:24
15

There is "humbug"... which at least in writings of the 1980s seemed to be granted consideration as a word in current use.


Harry G. Frankfurt's essay / book "On Bullshit" has this to say - I think he came pretty close to a "working" definition by relating "bullshit" to "humbug":

I am uncertain just how close in meaning the word humbug is to the word bullshit. Of course the words are not freely and fully interchangeable; it is clear that they are used differently. But the difference appears on the whole to have more to do with considerations of gentility... It is more polite, as well as less intense, to say "Humbug!" than to say "Bullshit!" ... I shall assume that there is no other important difference between the two.

(bold emphasis added)

and

Black suggests a number of synonyms for humbug, including the following: balderdash, claptrap, hokum, drivel, buncombe, imposture, and quackery. ... [He] also confronts the problem of establishing the nature of humbug more directly, and he offers the following formal definition:

HUMBUG: deceptive misrepresentation, short of lying, especially by pretentious word or deed, of somebody's own thoughts, feelings, or attitudes.

A very similar formulation might plausibly be offered as enunciating the essential characteristics of bullshit.

By the last statement, IIRC, the author basically equates the terms in what seemed to me to be a very clear & compelling way.


The name "Black" refers to the citation: Max Black, The Prevalence of Humbug, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1985.

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  • 1
    Yep, H. Frankfurt was my first thought when I read this question. – nomen Feb 21 at 19:54
  • I would've answered this. It's in my old thesaurus (which predates the 80s). There are only three nouns listed under bullshit: boasting, humbug, nonsense. Basically, it seems like they were trying to prove the validity of something already well known, but somewhat redefined (due to Scrooge, of course). – KannE Feb 21 at 20:34
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    @KannE well, A Christmas Carol would be much less charming if Scrooge went around saying "what b******t!" instead of "bah, humbug!" ;) – UuDdLrLrSs Feb 21 at 21:48
  • LOL! Yes, people should know that humbug doesn't necessarily mean there will be no fat goose or presents. – KannE Feb 21 at 21:51
13

I think part of the problem here is that "bullshit" can actually cover a wide range of implications, and in many cases, finding an appropriate alternative really depends on why one believes it to be bullshit to begin with. It could be:

Factually untrue:

  • wrong
  • incorrect
  • specious

Unsupported or logically incorrect:

  • dubious
  • unfounded
  • misinformed
  • fallacious
  • irrational
  • nonsense
  • absurd

Insufficient:

  • inadequate
  • irrelevant
  • lacking
  • pathetic

Unacceptable / distasteful:

  • unreasonable
  • inappropriate

Deliberately deceptive:

  • misleading
  • disingenuous

Any of those could potentially be used depending on the specific type of bullshit we're dealing with, and could even be combined if necessary (for example, "everything he says is specious and unreasonable"). However, if there's some case in which you really can't narrow down the meaning and need something that is directly equivalent to "bullshit" in all of its meanings, then your choices, I think, are pretty limited. About all I can think of is:

  • garbage
  • worthless
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  • 1
    Lots of good ones here 'unfounded', 'inadequate'. 'Disingenuous' is usually the case when 'bullshit' is happening, but they're not the same meaning. 'Not even wrong' is probably what I want but that takes a lot of thought to process. – Mitch Feb 22 at 17:25
9

In fact everything he says are terminological inexactitudes.

Might as well use an eloquent phrase yourself.

Terminological inexactitude is a phrase introduced in 1906 by British politician Winston Churchill. It is used as a euphemism or circumlocution meaning a lie, untruth or substantially correct but technically inaccurate.
Wikipedia

Since it was coined by a statesman, I think it also addresses your tendentious criterion.

Another term to consider is doublespeak.

Deliberately euphemistic, ambiguous, or obscure language.
‘At best doublespeak makes language sound messy and vague; at worst it makes lies sound like truth.’
Lexico

Recently in America, the phrase alternative facts was coined to mean something different, but is now recognized as largely the same thing as doublespeak.

In fact everything he says is doublespeak.
In fact everything he says are alternative facts.

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9

While not exact, I would suggest disingenuous . It gets across the idea that that there is an intent to mislead while attempting to sound helpful and informative.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disingenuous

lacking in candor also : giving a false appearance of simple frankness

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7

Colonel Sherman T. Potter, the fictional commander of the eponymous MASH in the TV series, would say, horse hockey. I don't know if that suits your definition of formal, but it was at least suitable for tv, and it lent color to a great character.

Potter contrasted with the previous MASH commander Lt. Colonel Henry Blake in how military-formal he seemed to be.

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  • Yes, too informal, too much of a minced oath, too colorful. – Mitch Feb 21 at 13:08
  • @Mitch Too informal does not mean it cannot be used in a formal setting. Sometimes that is exactly what is needed to demonstrate that what you are talking about is itself not fit for the formal conversation. Bob, very formally: "I suspect the lack of trees in this area is because the rain in Spain falls mainly on the mountains." Bill, who was very formal up until this point: "That's horse hockey. Everyone knows the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain." The informality can be perfect even in a formal setting, as it shows Bob's formality was insincere. – Aaron Feb 21 at 17:34
7

Wind comes close as a single word. It is not just merely nonsense like most synonyms of bullshit suggest. It can mean empty rhetoric or false statements; and can be applied to different situations like bullshit.

Here are three different definitions from three dictionaries:

OED:

Empty talk, vain or ineffectual speech, mere ‘breath’

Lexico:

Empty, pompous, or boastful talk; meaningless rhetoric.

Ex:

So, in other words, another international confluence of hot wind and gassy rhetoric thus comes to pass.

She is just full of wind and hot air.

Cambridge:

words that do not mean anything and false statements:

Ex:

I rarely bother to listen to politicians' speeches - it's all just wind.

Note: If you try to be too formal, you are getting too far away from what bullshit suggests. One could ask the formal alternative of rubbish or even nonsense, but bullshit is much more than that. I believe wind is just in the right place. It is not too formal (yet you can see it in news articles), not vulgar, not goofy, not a minced oath or a waste/excrement metaphor. It is a simple and easy-to-understand single word. It is more like a metaphor or a semantic extension of breath; or an allusion to wind. I've mentioned empty rhetoric also but it can not be an alternative by itself and it is too formal. Plus, it is just one of the senses of bullshit or wind depending on the context.

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  • 1
    Where I first heard that from was part of a longer phrase, all wind and piss which suggests it's not exactly more formal in origin – Separatrix Feb 21 at 11:46
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    "A load of hot air" perhaps. – Ruadhan2300 Feb 21 at 13:04
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    Wind and hot air are both metaphorical. Wind has the connotative connection with flatulence. – Mitch Feb 21 at 20:04
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    Wind is more of a metaphor of breath (or maybe "talking" itself) or can be even compared to wind (the atmospheric phenomenon). For example, there is a near synonym of wind or bullshit which is gas (or gassing) but it is more vulgar and it has a strong connection with flatulence; and that's why I didn't mention. Wind is mild yet not too formal; and closer to bullshit with its different connotations. – ermanen Feb 21 at 20:15
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    It has both meanings, and the ambiguity adds irony here. It being a demonstration of the words meaning! – Jasen Feb 22 at 8:38
5

The problem with defining bullshit is that it’s a metaphorical label describing the cause of a (highly subjective) emotional reaction.

Trying to encapsulate the entire domain in your question is a challenging task if precision is desired, and that task is, unfortunately, at odds with the nature of the to-be-replaced word.

First, a question to consider: Who decides what is formal?

And here’s my suggested replacement adjective phrase, which you can use as-is for increased ambiguity, or you can narrow it using any contextual information you might have:

questionable or irrelevant

From the version of the Oxford Dictionary of English included in iOS:

  • questionable: doubtful as regards truth or validity
  • irrelevant: not connected with or relevant to something
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  • Yes, there might not be words with the exact meaning of 'bullshit' so may be better to address other aspects with the same implications. 'doubtful', 'not even wrong', etc. – Mitch Feb 21 at 13:19
  • This answer hits a nail that others seem to be missing. The word in question is a metaphor, not a word with the intended definition. As such, nobody can say "It means precisely this." This is evidenced by the disagreeing statements all over the place. – Aaron Feb 21 at 17:40
4

If you consider the term bullshit conveying more or less what is expressed, in a more extreme way, in the following sentence:

What he said is a steaming pile of bullshit!

I think that a suitable more formal, but still common, substitute may be garbage or maybe rubbish.

Consider:

What he said is complete garbage!

What he said is complete rubbish!

The terms are not so "strong" or taboo, but they clearly convey the meaning that the information they refer to is useless (not necessarily false) in the given context.

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4

Arrant Nonsense!

If for whatever reason you cannot bring yourself to call a political con artist or marketing spin doctor who’s forever dissembling and prevaricating a liar to his face, and bollocks is too earthy for you and bovine-tainted variants of coproloquy, coproloquent, coproloquence too prissy, then you could hardly go wrong in a formal context with William Safire’s own classy choice of arrant nonsense.

The OED uses this exact collocation of arrant nonsense in one of its citations for its sense 3b of the adjective arrant. I present more than just that alone here so that you can see the development and history of this fine upstanding word as it has been used by such writers of renown as Chaucer and Shakespeare, Pope and Milton, Defoe and Irving.

Etymology: A variant of ᴇʀʀᴀɴᴛ adj., ‘wandering, vagrant, vagabond,’ which from its frequent use in such expressions as arrant thief, became an intensive, ‘thorough, notorious, downright,’ especially, from its original associations, with opprobrious names. For the vowel-change compare arrand = errand, Harry =Herry, Henry, far n. =earlier fer, etc.

  1. †Wandering, itinerant, vagrant; esp. in knight arrant, bailiff arrant; in which the etymological ᴇʀʀᴀɴᴛ adj. is now alone used.

    [citations omitted tchrist]

  2. In thief errant, arrant thief [= robber] originally an outlawed robber roving about the country, a freebooter, bandit, highwayman; hence, a public, notorious, professed robber, a ‘common thief,’ an undisguised, manifest, out-and-out thief.

    • c1386  Geoffrey Chaucer Manciple’s Tale 120
      An outlawe or a thef erraunt. [See the whole passage.]
    • 1553   J. Bale Vocacyon in Harl. Misc. (Malh.) I. 362
      The most errande thefe and mercilesse murtherer.
    • 1569   R. Grafton Chron. II. 407
      There is not so ranke a traytor, nor so arrant a thefe.
    • 1637   J. Pocklington Sunday no Sabbath 13
      The arrantest Pharisee theefe in Jerusalem.
    • 1724   Jonathan Swift Blunders of Quilca in Wks. (1755) VI. ɪɪ. 174
      Every servant an arrant [1745: errant] thief as to victuals and drink.
    • 1822   Washington Irving Bracebridge Hall xxvii. 247
      Who, like errant thieves, could not hold up their heads in an honest house.
  3. a. Hence: Notorious, manifest, downright, thorough-paced, unmitigated. Extended from thief to traitor, knave, rebel, coward, usurer; after 1575 widely used as an opprobrious intensive, with fool, dunce, ass, idiot, hypocrite, Pharisee, Papist, Puritan, infidel, atheist, blasphemer, and so on through the whole vocabulary of abuse.

    • 1393   W. Langland Piers Plowman C. ᴠɪɪ. 307
      An erraunt vsurer.
    • a1513  R. Fabyan New Cronycles Eng. & Fraunce (1516) I. lxxx. f. xxxiᵛ
      Beynge a errant Traytoure.
    • 1538   Tunstall in J. Strype Eccl. Mem. I. ɪ. xliv. 338
      Reginald Pole, comen of a noble blood, and thereby the more errant traitor.
    • 1553   Procl. in J. Strype Eccl. Mem. III. App. vi. 10
      The most arrande traytour Syr John Dudley.
    • a1592  R. Greene Frier Bacon (1594) sig. C2ᵛ
      Why thou arrant dunce shal I neuer make thee good scholler.
    • 1603   William Shakespeare Hamlet ɪ. v. 128
      Hee’s an arrant knaue.
    • 1619   M. Drayton Legend Robert Dvke of Normandy in Poems (new ed.) 316
      Which she to Sots and arrant Ideots threw.
    • 1621   Richard Burton Anat. Melancholy ɪɪ. ɪɪɪ. ɪɪ. 391
      A nobleman therefore in some likelyhood..[is] a proud foole, & an arrant asse.
    • 1660   H. More Explan. Grand Myst. Godliness ᴠ. xiii. 168
      Either an arrant Infidel or horrid Blasphemer.
    • 1679   R. Mansell Exact & True Narr. Late Popish Intrigue Addr.
      Who may prove good tools, though errant Fools.
    • 1719   Daniel Defoe Farther Adventures Robinson Crusoe 319
      They are errant Cowards.
    • 1749   H. Fielding Tom Jones V. xɪᴠ. iii. 132
      The arrantest Villain that ever walked upon two Legs.
    • 1824   Washington Irving Tales of a Traveller II. 34
      As arrant a crew of scapegraces as ever were collected together.
    • 1838   W. Howitt Rural Life Eng. I. ɪɪ. v. 188
      The inhabitants of solitary houses are often most arrant cowards.

    b. transferred of things, i.e. opprobrious deeds and qualities, theft, presumption, lie, device, etc.

    • 1639   T. Fuller Hist. Holy Warre ᴠ. xxx. 285
      It were arrant presumption for Flesh to prescribe God his way.
    • 1693   R. Bentley Boyle Lect. ɪ. 10
      [They] cover the most arrant Atheism under the mask and shadow of a Deity.
    • 1753   S. Richardson Hist. Sir Charles Grandison IV. xxxiv. 239
      I am afraid I have written arrant nonsense.
    • 1776   T. Pennant Tour Scotl. ɪɪ. 327
      This hill, till about the year 995, was an errant desert..and uninhabitable.
    • 1858   H. T. Buckle Hist. Civilisation Eng. (1869) III. v. 480
      Little better than arrant trifling.
  4. Without opprobrious force: Thorough, downright, genuine, complete, ‘regular’.

    • 1664   J. Evelyn Sylva 95
      He that shall behold its grain..will never scruple to pronounce it arrant wood.
    • 1704   N. Rowe Ulysses Epil. 15
      They Like arrant Huswives, rise by Break of Day.
    • 1820   Washington Irving Sketch Bk. II. 59
      A tight brisk little man, with the air of an arrant old bachelor.
  5. †a. With the opprobrious force transferred to the adjective: Thoroughly bad, good for nothing, rascally.

    • 1676   W. Wycherley Plain-dealer ɪɪɪ. i
      Mine’s as arrant a Widow-Mother, to her poor Child, as any’s in England.
    • 1708   Alexander Pope Corr. 1 Nov. (1956) I. 51
      You are not so arrant a Critick, [of the Modern Poets] as to damn them..without hearing.
    • 1761   T. Smollett tr. A. R. Le Sage Gil Blas ᴠɪɪ. iii
      It was easy to see through all his piety that he was an arrant author at the bottom.

    b. as predicate

    • 1806   John Milton Prose Wks. I. 165
      The authority of some synodal canons, which are now arrant [1641 no warrant] to us.
  6. as n. A person of no reputation, a good-for-nothing.

    • 1605   N. Breton I pray you be not Angrie sig. C
      Her good man, who should be sent of Errandes, while she were with her Arrants.

So arrant is used as an ‘opprobrious intensive’, and arrant nonsense is therefore a formal way to refer to flagrantly ballsy, in-your-face figments of patently henidical fabulation spewing from your nearest purveyor of patent snakeoil elixirs or social-media feed.

That does seem to be what you’re looking for here.

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3

He is talking out (of) his rear. Less vulgar version of "talking out his ass":

1) To say foolish things; to talk of nonsense. 2) To exaggerate one's achievements or knowledge of some subject; to bluff or boast.

Your mileage may vary on how formal you can go with this since you're still implying the person is an idiot, even if not a malicious one.

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3

PT Barnum himself called it "bluster". Until recently, he was the best known purveyor of bullshit in American History.

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  • Unfortunately, I can’t say I agree with that as an answer to this question, BUT!! the aside made me laugh outloud. :-) – Jim Feb 21 at 18:15
  • Fortune always favors the brave... – KannE Feb 22 at 6:31
  • BTW, you should cite a source to avoid possible deletion. Welcome to ELU. – KannE Feb 22 at 6:39
3

Perhaps "baseless" or "without merit" (I prefer it over meritless) would be better approximations

Baseless:

having no basis in reason or fact

Merit:

The quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.

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3

Tendentious has many of the right connotations. The denotative meaning is something like, “marked by a tendency in favor of a particular point of view : biased.” (Merriam-Webster), but it carries the strong implication of trying to argue a case regardless of what the facts say. Sophistry would be an appropriate way to talk about overcomplicated pseudo-logic. Empty words are vacuous.

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3

It seems to me that people use the noun bullshit figuratively to express one of two non-overlapping ideas: (1) long-winded, pointless drivel, or (2) intentionally deceptive falsehood. The motivation to promulgate one or the other of these forms of bullshit is fundamentally distinct. In the first instance, the bullshitter is in effect operating on autopilot, without having any evident reason for the outpouring of words but self-expression or perhaps the prospect of being listened to. In the second instance, the bullshitter aims to mislead or confuse listeners with specious argumentation or outright lies; the bullshit propounded is nothing if not purposeful.

For the first sense, a suitable alternative might be blather, which, according to Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) had entered English as a verb by 1524 and as a noun by 1719. Here is the Eleventh Collegiate's entry for the noun form of the word:

blather n (1719) 1 : voluble nonsensical or inconsequential talk or writing 2 : STIR, COMMOTION

Definition 1 of blather is the meaning relevant to its use as an alternative to bullshit.

For the second sense, you might do better with a phrase. I think that mendacious dissembling works well as a formal alternative to bullshit here. The Eleventh Collegiate defines the two components as follows:

mendacious adj (1616) : given to or characterized by deception or falsehood or divergence from absolute truth

dissemble vb dissembled; dissembling vt (15c) 1 : to hide under a false appearance 2 : to put on the appearance of : SIMULATE ~ vi : to put on a false appearance : conceal facts, intentions, or feelings under some pretense.

The relevant sense of dissembling in this case is the one associated with the intransitive verb.

Returning to the example sentence posted in the question—

Bob isn't making a very good argument. In fact everything he says is bullshit.

—I can't tell whether what the person criticizing Bob's argument objects to is its directionless prolixity or its deceptive untruthfulness. But the critic could quickly resolve that ambiguity by swapping in the appropriate alternative wording. Either

Bob isn't making a very good argument. In fact everything he says is blather.

or

Bob isn't making a very good argument. In fact everything he says is mendacious dissembling.

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  • It needs to be noted that very often the first idea is employed in service of the second. – Hot Licks Feb 23 at 14:04
  • @HotLicks: Yes, certainly—or in the vernacular, "bullshit in service of bullshit." – Sven Yargs Feb 23 at 19:38
2

You might be looking for something along the lines of a fallacy. This is essentially a very polite way to call someone a liar by calling out their BS and generally their lack of logic, too.

1 a: a false or mistaken idea
// popular fallacies
// prone to perpetrate the fallacy of equating threat with capability
— C. S. Gray
b: erroneous character : ERRONEOUSNESS
The fallacy of their ideas about medicine soon became apparent.
2a: deceptive appearance : DECEPTION
bobsolete : GUILE, TRICKERY
3: an often plausible argument using false or invalid inference

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fallacy

A fallacy is the use of invalid or otherwise faulty reasoning, or "wrong moves"[1] in the construction of an argument.[2][3] A fallacious argument may be deceptive by appearing to be better than it really is. Some fallacies are committed intentionally to manipulate or persuade by deception, while others are committed unintentionally due to carelessness or ignorance. The soundness of legal arguments depends on the context in which the arguments are made.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy

There are even formal definitions for different types of fallacy. Just to list a few:

A formal fallacy is an error in logic that can be seen in the argument's form.[4] All formal fallacies are specific types of non sequitur.

  • Appeal to probability – a statement that takes something for granted because it would probably be the case (or might be the case).[5][6]
  • Argument from fallacy (also known as the fallacy fallacy) – the assumption that if an argument for some conclusion is fallacious, then the conclusion is false.[7]
  • Base rate fallacy – making a probability judgment based on conditional probabilities, without taking into account the effect of prior probabilities.[8]
  • Conjunction fallacy – the assumption that an outcome simultaneously satisfying multiple conditions is more probable than an outcome satisfying a single one of them.[9]
  • Masked-man fallacy (illicit substitution of identicals) – the substitution of identical designators in a true statement can lead to a false one.[10]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies

Common ones are the straw man fallacy, name calling, false dilemma, false attribution, moving the goalposts, no true Scotsman, and so many more that I'm just going to stop there.

Examples:

  • "No true Democrat would be a socialist." - no true Scotsman
  • "That SOB boss is making us do overtime again." - name calling
  • "Don't believe everything you read on the internet just because there's a picture with a quote next to it. - Abraham Lincoln" - false attribution
  • "We're going to make Mexico pay for the wall." - straw man
  • "But everyone else is doing it." - bandwagon
  • "Well, you're just an idiot, so nothing you say can be right." - ad hominem
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  • Yes, we know what a fallacy is, and that's an acceptable answer, but this answer as worded is a lot of bullshit after the first paragraph plus quote ;) – vectory Feb 22 at 15:48
2

I wonder if you're not looking for obfuscate:

to make something less clear and harder to understand, especially intentionally

This is related to the obfuscation fallacy:

Geeky Definition of Obfuscation Fallacy: The Obfuscation Fallacy occurs when someone adopts a position after hearing, or presenting, an argument containing unnecessarily complex language that either impresses (when it shouldn't), confuses or deceives. "To obfuscate: to make obscure, unclear or unintelligible"

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  • I'd buy obfuscations for a dollar. – klzbrt Feb 21 at 20:15
  • I think I'll hold out for 3.4 New Guinean Kina. – Hot Licks Feb 21 at 20:19
  • Like madness and genius, bullshit and obfuscation are correlated but distinct. – Mitch Feb 21 at 20:24
  • 1
    @Mitch - We are having difficulty determining which of the 3000 connotations of bullshit you are trying to replace. – Hot Licks Feb 21 at 20:27
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    @KannE - What a load of BS! – Hot Licks Feb 22 at 13:20
2

Why don't you just go with the initialism BS? That is sufficiently sanitized for formal use, and while it shades toward "minced oath" territory it doesn't really get all the way to something you would hear grandmothers use. It also, once the listener internally completes the expansion to bullshit, brings to mind the full redolence of the larger term.

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  • 2
    Like another answer has it, "I wouldn't suggest this in a court filing." – vectory Feb 22 at 15:45
  • 'BS' does have its place, probably more than 'bullshit', but it still sounds like 'bullcrap' or 'frikkin', not exactly a minced enough to be used in Vectory's court filing. – Mitch Feb 22 at 17:16
  • Then I think your question may be unanswerable, because it appears to be on the order of "What am I thinking now?" It's perhaps more about your perceptions and prejudices than it is about English. – Robusto Feb 22 at 17:37
  • @Robusto Rather than unanswerable, maybe there just isn't such a word for the given criteria specified. – Mitch Feb 23 at 1:37
2

pablum

Reference

As in "bland or insipid intellectual fare."

This slightly old-fashioned word seems to be coming back into fashion. It’s definitely formal sounding.

I would note: There is a fundamental tension between speaking formally, and saying someone is full of bullshit.

Dismissing another’s arguments with a single word is generally too impolite to be truly formal, no matter the word choice.

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1

stultiloquence

Because even if you can't bullshit a bullshitter, it's worth a try.

Basically, it means "silly bullshit" and "almost rhymes with eloquence" (Bullshit: A Lexicon by Mark Peters Phd).

Literally, it means "foolish talk" (The Imperial Dictionary of the English Language...).

So it's a hyponym of sorts, but I picked this word out of Roget's because it seemed like the nicest, at first, and I thought it would work well for you.


BTW, I selected these references for you because, first, the dictionary is "free" and the lexicon only costs $4.99 (so enjoy bullshit at will), and the dictionary has entries for the different forms of the word, so that's nice...like an actual book.

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  • 3
    Did you perhaps mean bovine coproloquence? It has that lovely eau de vache aroma to it, as the French might say. :) – tchrist Feb 22 at 2:40
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    Coproloquy occurs, and the rest follows. But just look at the stems/pieces. – tchrist Feb 22 at 13:49
  • @tchrist - Oh, scatology... I think you're on to something. Scat is a great root word. Can one just say scat and be done? – KannE Feb 22 at 18:30
  • I guess people didn't appreciate the Ye Olde Bookshoppe... Hahaha, I crack myself up, but it still means the same thing. – KannE Feb 22 at 18:47
  • *onto something – KannE Mar 1 at 14:37
0

Bullshit, formally, in a newspaper = "outrageous disinformation/fallacy/deception/untruth" ... The fact of it being a swear word adds emphasis, like outrageous, complete, etc. depending on context you can find specialised terms like fallacy, scandal, scam, confindence trick.

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-2

If your usage isn't too formal (for example, I wouldn't suggest this in a court filing), might I suggest a literal translation of bullshit, such as :

bovine fecal matter
cow feces
ox poop
etc.

?

... something that the reader will translate directly back to "bullshit" but you didn't actually use any profane words directly.

I certainly wouldn't suggest this in a truly formal setting, but it might work OK in some settings where actually saying "bullshit" would be inappropriate, and you might even get some credit for clever wordplay.

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