• claptrap •
Pronunciation: klæp-træp • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Empty, pompous and pretentious drivel designed to gain approval. 2. Nonsense (babble, balderdash, baloney, blather, blatherskite, bunkum, drivel, garbage, hogwash, hooey, idiocy, malarkey, piffle, poppycock, rigmarole, rubbish, tommyrot, twaddle).
Notes: Today's Good Word is a bit on the slangy side and probably should be limited to conversation and informal writing. In its first sense it may be used in the plural, as in claptraps like 'God bless America', 'God save the queen', and 'lower taxes'. In the second sense it is a mass noun with no plural.
In Play: It would be a beautiful world if claptraps were flowers, for we find them all around us every day: "When the Buncombe boys were found guilty of killing their parents, they offered the judge some claptrap about being orphans to get a lighter sentence." This is the first sense of claptrap. Today the word more often refers to sheer nonsense, as in the second meaning above: "The airwaves today are filled with mindless political claptrap."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us from the theater where, in early 18th century England a clap trap was a cheap, showy line guaranteed to 'trap a clap' from the audience. The word claptrap went on to refer to any line guaranteed to generate applause or appreciation, such as "Britannia rules the waves". Finally, it came to mean any kind of nonsense or rubbish. Be careful not to confuse claptraps with the slapstick of 'slapstick' comedy. Slapstick originally referred to a thin, flat board with a handle and another shorter flat board attached to it by piece of cloth or leather so that it slaps the first board, making any blow with it sound much louder and worse than it is.