Argle bargle: 5 meanings of word reduplication

You may have a hoity toity degree from a fancy schmancy school, but blowing a gasket over certain kinds of hanky panky makes you an old fuddy duddy

Justice Antonin Scalia telegraphed his disdain through a little linguistic trick called word reduplication.
(Image credit: Pete Marovich/ZUMA Press/Corbis)

In his angry dissent to the court's decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Scalia conveyed a specific kind of derision through his use of several colloquial expressions. He talked of the court's impatience to "blurt out" its opinion and said that the majority's explanation "takes real cheek." With reference to the taking up of the issue of gay marriage in the first place, he said that "some might conclude that this loaf could have used a while longer in the oven." He accuses the majority of having an inability to resist painting the other side as monsters, and laments that with a "too bad." The use of such casual, folksy expressions enhances the attitude of disdain by implying, "I won't even deign to use my fancy educated voice; that's how little I think of this."

The most noticeable of these expressions was "argle bargle," a term he used to describe the reasoning behind the majority opinion. At Visual Thesaurus, Ben Zimmer gives the background on the roots of "argle bargle" in Scottish rhyming slang. It came from a playful transformation of "argue" and means a tussle or spirited dispute. It is also used to mean nonsense, which is how Scalia uses it here.

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Arika Okrent

Arika Okrent is editor-at-large at and a frequent contributor to Mental Floss. She is the author of In the Land of Invented Languages, a history of the attempt to build a better language. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and a first-level certification in Klingon. Follow her on Twitter.