Thursday, August 27, 2015



Last week’s post on various words for gatherings got me thinking about what goes on at gatherings, which led me to consider the myriad words we have for talking.

The word chatter showed up in English in the 1200s, an echoic term referring to the noise of birds. In less than a century, chatter had broadened to refer to gossiping or twittering (how many modern folk might suggest that Twitter is nothing but gossip?). Today, chatter’s definition is incessant talk of trivial subjects.

A lengthy or extravagant speech intended to persuade is called a spiel. It comes from the German word spielen, to play, and showed up in English in the 1870s meaning to play circus music. By the 1890s it began to mean to make a glib speech or pitch.

Since the 1400s English speakers have used the verb blab, which came from a Middle English noun meaning one who cannot control his tongue. Our friends at the OED state “the word was exceedingly common in the 16th and 17th c.; unusual in literature since c 1750.” Today blab means to reveal secret matters or chatter indiscriminately.

The word prattle, which showed up in the 1530s came from the verb prate, which came from a Middle Dutch word meaning to chatter. Today prattle means to babble meaninglessly.

We call a long angry speech, piece of writing, or harangue a screed. This meaning of screed appeared in 1789, but back in the 1300s the word screed meant a fragment or strip of cloth. How a fragment grew to refer to something long & monotonous is a question for minds better than mine.

Any thoughts about chattering, blabbing, prattling, spiels or screeds? Please leave those thoughts in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, & the OED.


  1. I love the idea that a "spiel" comes from circus music. Since politicians always talk in spiels, and today's political scene seems to be more and more like a circus (complete with clown car) I think the word is perfect!

    The screed origin is odd. I wonder if they used to write them on old rags or something.

    Thanks again for some enlightening facts about our very strange language!

  2. Hi Anne,
    Thanks for checking out my spiel!

  3. I don't know why, but I always thought "spiel" was Yiddish. "Screed" sounds just like what it is, especially if you stretch your mouth and drag it out when you say it. Ha! My two bits (which is another slang for talk, come to think of it)

  4. Hi, Everyone, great post as usual, Charlie. I love Anne's analogy to politics with spiel. Right on. And Christine, two cents too would work, right? I'm always saying that when I think I've overstepped and maybe come across as too opinionated. Imagine me, opinionated. :)
    Screed didn't register with me at all. I must have been asleep in my English Word Power Class when Father Statler drummed that into our tiny heads. Or in my case, didn't. Oh, well...just me spilling the beans and also letting the cat out of the bag. Hugs to all, Paul.

  5. Hey Paul,
    Thanks for dropping by & letting the Father Statler's screed cat out of the bag,

  6. So, would prablabbabbling be considered redundundundant?