This is a word I had never heard before – but instantly understood its meaning, and usefulness, when I did come across it. It leapt off the page while reading Steven Pinker’s book How the Mind Works. Talking about religious food taboos Pinker describes the ingenious justifications rabbis offer for Jewish dietary laws. He refers to elders cloaking them “in talmudic sophistry and bafflegab.”
I had been looking for a word to describe the gobbledegook that aggressive religious apologists often come out with to justify their claims. Some of these religious spokespersons seem to have training in philosophy, logic, debating and presentation and put these all to use in justifying the unjustifiable. Plenty of form but horrible content.
Anyone following the religion vs science debates will be familiar with the justifications of Alister McGrath (usually preceded by “I would argue that ..”) and John Lennox (especially in ustifying his belief in miracles). I don’t know whether their fellow religious thinkers can understand and agree with these justifications but they certainly cause my eyes to glaze over.
It’s all bafflegab to me.
Of course bafflegab is not restricted to religion. It’s common in philosophy, especially post-modernist trends, and advertising.
The Encarta Dictionary defines bafflegab as: “Nonsense. …. pretentious and obscure talk full of technical terminology or circumlocutions;”
Wiktionary as: “Language whose purpose is to obscure, confuse, or mislead;”
Encyclopedia.com as: “An informal pejorative term for fluent language that sounds impressive but confuses and confounds, and is often associated with politicians;” and
Worldwidewords as: “Incomprehensible or pretentious verbiage.”
Worldwidewords also gives the word’s history. Milton Smith coined the word in 1952 in an article for the Washington Report criticising bureaucratic language. The Bellingham Herald picked this up and in an editorial declared that the inventor deserved an award. That newspaper duly paid for a plaque and organised its presentation. At the presentation, Milton Smith defined the word as:
“multiloquence characterized by consummate interfusion of circumlocution or periphrasis, inscrutability, and other familiar manifestations of abstruse expatiation commonly utilized for promulgations implementing Procrustean determinations by governmental bodies.”
As Worldwidewords said: “Just so.”
You can also buy a wordgame called Bafflegab. In this “Players are given words to make silly sentences and stories”