"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Argey bargey

How many people receive an e-mail from their brother which has the subject matter "Argey bargey" and the content "Just a thought". Translated it means - is the origin and use of the phrase argey bargey worthy of a blog entry. The answer - as you will have gathered - is yes.

An argy-bargy, argey-bargey or argie-bargie (with or without a hyphen) is an argument, spat, debate or minor quarrel. It is often used of the general rough-and-tumble and falling-out between siblings - as in the parental admonition ‘For heaven’s sake stop all that argie-bargie!’

The phrase seems to have arisen in Scotland where he word ‘argle’ - a corruption of argue - was followed by the nonsensical but rhyming ‘bargle‘. Parliament was described as having argle-barglers in it in ‘The Ayrshire Legatees’ by John Galt, published in 1821. A no more appropriate context could there be than parliament! This early version also appears in Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’ in 1886.

The later version appears as early as 1897 in ’Margaret Ogilvy’, the work of another Scot, J M Barrie, but in my 1960s version of the Concise Oxford Dictionary it still appears as argle-bargle.


  1. Interesting post. My wife's mom has roots in Scotland, but the phrase was foreign to my wife. She did help me the other day with "pipe dream." I never knew! (The map on your other blog was helpful in placing you... so. far. north!)


  2. Have to admit, when first seeing the words, I thought, no way, this isn't even a real word. Very interesting. Love to learn of other countries lingos. Can't wait to learn more!

  3. Having blogged about the expression argey-bargey yesterday on my word blog I promptly found an example of it when Mopsa's blog led me to a posting about her two rams getting re-acquainted, during which "A bit of minor argybargy ensued."