Ask Dr. B – What does “Blithering” mean?

Note:  Dr. B is a guest contributor author to this blog, answering questions you send in. Dr. B took quite a bit of time to craft this response, as it seems he/she/it is not gainfully employed elsewhere.


Dr. B, Clarely mentioned a Dr. Blithering in an earlier post. I believe that is his first name and his surname begins with an “I.”  This is an unusual name and just in case it appears on the annual list of popular baby names, can you tell me what it means? Thank you.

Dr B

Dr. B says:

It may be useful to know its derivation before you name your first child.  This is one of those  rare words which has independently arisen in several different contexts:

1) The fox hunt in seventeenth-century England was a source of amusement to visiting wool-merchants from the Continent, in particular the use of a “red herring” to obfuscate the spoor of the fox. This term was taken back to northern Germany, in the somewhat corrupted form “blood herring”, as a description of obfuscation and pointless talk. The expression was particularly popular in the German Jewish community.  The Yiddish translation of “blood-herring”,  namely “blit-hering”,  was much later brought back to the U.K. by the Rothschilds, who used it as a private term of derision for the inanities they encountered in British banking circles. The Rothschilds’ status, however, guaranteed instant public acceptance of the term.

2) The combination of “blithe” and “ring”, describing a loosely organized group fashionable in Elizabethan England for the purpose of discussing cheerful topics, as opposed to the more depressing issues of the day, such as the Pox, the Black Death, the Spanish Armada, the excessive use of beheading as a disciplinary tool in the Royal Family, and the difficulty of procuring radicchio in mid-winter. The application of the term “blithe-ring” to such deliberately cheerful idiots was soon generalized to mean any pointless jabbering.

3) The cult 1950′s Vietnamese film “The Yoga Kid” is about an old guru named Ng who teaches a young boy how to confound his enemies at school by sitting down and meditating.  It has a memorable scene in which the guru descibes the uselessness of talk rather than action by referring to one his own early teachers.  Ng had been attempting, without success, the everted lotus position.  Asking his master for specific intructions on what he could do better, all he had got was the admonition “Be lither, Ng”. Vietnamese audiences seized upon this as a catch-phrase for useless talk, and thhe phrase became very popular.  It lost an “e” in print, and added an “i”, changing to “Blithering”, because the Vietnamese alphabet has no “e” but more than enough “i”s.  American POW’s brought the word back to the  U.S. after the end of the Vietnam war.

Apologies.  It’s a slow afternoon.

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