The Argle-Bargle Over This Jiggery-Pokery Is Pure Applesauce

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As you likely know by now, the Supreme Court has voted 6-3 to reject a challenge to the Affordable Care Act a.k.a. Obamacare, over a strong dissent by Justice Scalia. The opinion in King v. Burwell involves important issues of federalism, separation of powers, and statutory interpretation, but most importantly it is the first time the phrases "pure applesauce" and "jiggery-pokery" have been used in any Supreme Court opinion.

What's that? You're more interested in federalism? Wow, are you in the wrong place.

The use of "pure applesauce" to mean "nonsense," as Scalia uses it, was new to me but does show up in the Google Books database. A completely unscientific eyeballing of those results suggests it was most popular, if "popular" is the right word, during the last century. In this biography of P.G. Wodehouse, for example, the author mentions it as an example of the "Pooterish Edwardian slang" Wodehouse used in the 1910 book Psmith in the City, along with "perfect rot" and "give me the pip" (to irritate). In 1970, Time magazine described an author as "a colloidal suspension of William Buckley, William Blake and Herbert Marcuse in pure applesauce," which was not at all a compliment, but in the last few decades "pure applesauce" has generally been used to mean just pure applesauce.

So, I don't know who had a problem with applesauce to begin with, but there is literary precedent for Scalia's use of the term in this way. But it hasn't been used in a U.S. court opinion, so far as I can tell.

"Jiggery-pokery" is slightly more common. It's actually listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, defined as a colloquial term (originally Scottish) for "deceitful or dishonest manipulation; hocus-pocus, humbug." It shows up in just one other U.S. opinion (according to Google Scholar), which not too surprisingly was written by Judge Selya of the First Circuit. That's not too surprising because Judge Selya, though a perfectly good judge otherwise, seems to have a form of Tourette's that forces him to use the most arcane terms he can possibly find.

In the same opinion where he uses "jiggery-pokery," for example—just in this one opinion—he uses "eschatocol," "exegetic," "peregrination," "imbrication," "anent" (x2), "independentista" (x3), "spavined," "underbrace," "asseverate," and "jeremiad." He has said he does this to make his opinions more "interesting," but personally I think that's pure applesauce and it gives me the pip. Legal writing is hard enough to read without sending people to the dictionary every other paragraph.

"Jiggery-pokery" doesn't really require that, of course, but I thought I'd complain anyway.

Also originally Scottish, it turns out, is "argle-bargle," which Scalia used a couple of years ago to describe Justice Kennedy's opinion on the Defense of Marriage Act. See United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675, 2710 (2013) (Scalia, J., dissenting; criticizing the "disappearing trail of its legalistic argle-bargle"). Here he was on slightly firmer ground: I found three previous uses of that term in case law (and two others after Windsor). Interestingly, all three are in opinions by the same court, the first two written by the same judge (not Selya). See, e.g., Mech v. Hearst Corp., 496 A.2d 1099, 1099 (Md. Ct. App. 1985) (beginning, "This argle-bargle was precipitated by these facts."). The last of the three starts the same way, perhaps in tribute. See Oakhampton Ass'n, Inc. v. Reeve, 637 A.2d 879, 879 (Md. Ct. App. 1994) (noting that the term comes "from the Scotch—argy-bargy, to argue, wrangle, haggle"). The OED confirms that, by the way, as well as the dismissive connotation.

Finally, as you can see from this Google Ngram, none of these terms have been especially prevalent in literature, but their use has been generally declining. I have no idea what caused the spike in "argle-bargle" during the 1990s. Maybe somebody who was using "jiggery-pokery" decided he liked "argle-bargle" instead?

Applesauce ngram
Of course I also ran searches for "gollywaddles," but that one Scalia seems to have made up on the spot during oral argument and it didn't make it into print. Not yet, anyway.