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What Is Twaddle?

TwaddleTwaddle.

It’s a buzz word among those in Charlotte Mason circles. We smile in recognition when we hear it and probably use the word sometimes ourselves. Yet it seems difficult to define exactly. We might be able to give examples, but we can’t quite wrap our minds around an adequate, succinct definition.

Twaddle. How would you define it? Here are some key thoughts taken from Charlotte’s comments.

  1. Talking down to a child

    “Grown-up people who are not mothers talk and think far more childishly than the child does in their efforts to approach his mind. If a child talk twaddle, it is because his elders are in the habit of talking twaddle to him; leave him to himself, and his remarks are wise and sensible so far as his small experience guides him. Mothers seldom talk down to their children; they are too intimate with the little people, and have, therefore, too much respect for them: but professional teachers, whether the writers of books or the givers of lessons, are too apt to present a single grain of pure knowledge in a whole gallon of talk, imposing upon the child the labour of discerning the grain and of extracting it from the worthless flood” (Vol. 1, p. 175).

  2. Diluted

    “. . . the sort of diluted twaddle which is commonly thrust upon children” (Vol. 1, p. 176).

  3. Undervaluing the intelligence of a child

    “. . . greatly undervaluing the intelligence of her children. I know a person of three who happened to be found by a caller alone in the drawing-room. It was spring, and the caller thought to make himself entertaining with talk about the pretty ‘baa-lambs.’ But a pair of big blue eyes were fixed upon him and a solemn person made this solemn remark, “Isn’t it a dwefful howid thing to see a pig killed!” We hope she had never seen or even heard of the killing of a pig, but she made as effective a protest against twaddle as would any woman of Society” (Vol. 1, p. 187).

    “I am speaking now of his lesson-books, which are all too apt to be written in a style of insufferable twaddle, probably because they are written by persons who have never chanced to meet a child. All who know children know that they do not talk twaddle and do not like it, and prefer that which appeals to their understanding” (Vol. 1, p. 229).

  4. Reading-made-easy

    “As for what are called children’s books, the children of educated parents are able to understand history written with literary power, and are not attracted by the twaddle of reading-made-easy little history books” (Vol. 1, p. 281).

    “They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told” (Vol. 2, p. 263).

  5. Second-rate, stale, predictable

    “It is not possible to repeat this too often or too emphatically, for perhaps we err more in this respect than any other in bringing up children. We feed them upon the white ashes out of which the last spark of the fire of original thought has long since died. We give them second-rate story books, with stale phrases, stale situations, shreds of other people’s thoughts, stalest of stale sentiments. They complain that they know how the story will end! But that is not all; they know how every dreary page will unwind itself” (Vol. 3, p. 121).

  6. Goody-goody story books or highly-spiced adventures of poor quality, titillating

    “What manner of book will find its way with upheaving effect into the mind of an intelligent boy or girl? We need not ask what the girl or boy likes. She very often likes the twaddle of goody-goody story books, he likes condiments, highly-spiced tales of adventure. We are all capable of liking mental food of a poor quality and a titillating nature” (Vol. 3, p. 168).

  7. Scrappy, weak, light reading

    “Many who would not read even a brilliant novel of a certain type, sit down to read twaddle without scruple. Nothing is too scrappy, nothing is too weak to ‘pass the time!’ The ‘Scraps’ literature of railway bookstalls is symptomatic. We do not all read scraps, under whatever piquant title, but the locust-swarm of this class of literature points to the small reading power amongst us. The mischief begins in the nursery. No sooner can a child read at all than hosts of friendly people show their interest in him by a present of a ‘pretty book.’ A ‘pretty book’ is not necessarily a picture-book, but one in which the page is nicely broken up in talk or short paragraphs. Pretty books for the schoolroom age follow those for the nursery, and, nursery and schoolroom outgrown, we are ready for ‘Mudie’s’ lightest novels; the succession of ‘pretty books’ never fails us; we have no time for works of any intellectual fibre, and we have no more assimilating power than has the schoolgirl who feeds upon cheese-cakes” (Vol. 5, p. 214).

If we throw in a few adjectives from modern dictionaries, we round out a pretty comprehensive list of what constitutes twaddle:

  • Silly
  • Idle
  • Insignificant
  • Worthless
  • Trivial
  • Feeble
  • Tedious

But the challenge remains to adequately summarize all these concepts into a workable succinct definition.

So how would you define twaddle in one sentence? Let’s have some fun with it. Post your definition as a comment. Next Wednesday we’ll randomly pick one and award a $10 SCM gift certificate.

Update: Rather than naming names of items you consider twaddle, we’re looking for definitions that will help us evaluate.

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58 Responses to “What Is Twaddle?”

  1. Brittany Colberg September 2, 2009 at 10:04 pm #

    Twaddle is: Eye-candy that lures the child visually and offers nothing of value to the child mentally.

  2. Channing September 2, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

    In the fewest words I would say twaddle is dumbed down literature.

  3. Wyndee September 2, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

    The best definition of twaddle that I heard was “not worth talking about”

  4. Mrs. Sheri Neiswanger September 3, 2009 at 1:59 am #

    Twaddle is…a senseless lack of worth while learning (of morals and values)period of idleness in my day.

    I hope this is a clear thought. This is a great contest. Wouldn’t it be something if we evaluated words we use today in this like manner more often. We might not use so many of the words, or so many words.

  5. Jimmie September 3, 2009 at 3:21 am #

    Twaddle is to reading as a Hostess Twinkie is to eating.

    Maybe tasty but nothing of substance and often leaves you feeling that you’ve totally wasted your time– or in the case of the Twinkie –those precious calories.

    :-)

  6. Nicole September 3, 2009 at 4:51 am #

    Twaddle, in our home is described as “junk” — just like the food — a little won’t hurt you, but a steady diet of it can destroy you (or your thirst for beauty, goodness, and the truth).

  7. Esther September 3, 2009 at 5:02 am #

    Twaddle is a manner by wich we treat a child’s natural interest in a wrong way based on a misconcetion that he is an unintelligent being, not a real thinker and we don’t need to expect deep thoughts from him, therefore to relate with him or to entertain him, you need meaningless talking and books with no real value literally.

    Thanx for this post, it really made me think! :)

  8. Thy Hand September 3, 2009 at 5:44 am #

    Books and speech that insult a child’s intelligence and interest.

  9. Dawn September 3, 2009 at 6:17 am #

    Twaddle – instilling laziness of the mind.

  10. Suzanne September 3, 2009 at 7:25 am #

    Twaddle is like a glass of water with a little bit of dirt in it. You wouldn’t drink the water, so why read the book?

  11. Laura September 3, 2009 at 7:34 am #

    As I find my children interested in the Narnia series, I picked up ‘Surprised by Joy’ by C.S. Lewis. Among many things, it offers insight into his education which was the foundation of course for his numerous written works. He mentions how his love of good literature(which was primarily what was available) produced in him an excellent vocuabulary and skill in communication. The depth of this book in describing the impact of various types of his personal education has been surprising. While not the main point of the book, it is the ‘joy’ of which he speaks is in one way, a part of the whole person who benefits from a focus on the excellent, as opposed to the silly drivel of ‘twaddle’.

  12. Nikki September 3, 2009 at 7:37 am #

    Twaddle describes books that are simply a waste of time to read.

  13. Laura September 3, 2009 at 7:37 am #

    oops, I should have read more thoroughly,
    Definition- Twaddle- Absence of excellence in speech, especially when speaking to children.

  14. Amy September 3, 2009 at 8:02 am #

    When I think of twaddle, I always think of something C.S. Lewis said about children’s literature. He said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty.” I believe that twaddle is any book that does not meet this standard.

  15. Deidra September 3, 2009 at 8:36 am #

    Twaddle: the baiting of small fries with worldly thought-bites in order to raise up giant fishes that are easily led astray by mainSTREAMers ;-)

  16. Sonya September 3, 2009 at 9:03 am #

    These are great definitions and helpful comments, ladies!

    Just to let you know, we have not posted some of the comments that were submitted, because they contained only titles of materials that the submitter considered twaddle.

    We’re looking for definitions that will help us all evaluate whatever material we may pick up and look at.

    Keep them coming!

  17. Michelle September 3, 2009 at 9:06 am #

    Twaddle to me does not JUST apply to reading material that is “dumbed” down. I think it applies all across the curriculum. Twaddle are all activites that do not feed the soul, mind, and spirit. Wasting precious time creating things of no value. I am not totally against crafts-in fact- I love them! But when you make invaluable crafts everyday to “fill up” time, it is TWADDLE!
    As is “filling up” time, just to stretch out the school day! Instead let’s provide our children with materials that feed their intellect-but also the soul, and spirit! To me any other is considered twaddle! If we complete our day in a few hours but have deeply searched our souls and fed our spirits, then I am satisfied!

  18. Michelle September 3, 2009 at 9:10 am #

    Didn’t read the one sentence line!! Ha ha That is me—talk, talk, talk!

    Twaddle-Any activity that wastes precious time by not feeding the mind, soul, and spirit!

  19. Jennifer September 3, 2009 at 9:24 am #

    Twaddle is anything you read to your kids that tempts you to skip pages and hope they don’t notice. Not that I’d ever do such a thing…!

  20. mrskatie September 3, 2009 at 9:33 am #

    This isn’t original to me, but I’ve heard it said if it bores you to tears to read a book “again” to your child, then there’s a very good chance that it fits the twaddle category.

  21. Roberta September 3, 2009 at 10:02 am #

    Twaddle is shallow reading which does not contain rich language nor excercise the mind or imagination. I like the twinkie analogy…I was thinking of mac and cheese and it’s nutritional value…the box kind versus homemade. I want to help my children crave literary nutrients. :)

  22. Primal September 3, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    Twaddle is DEFINITELY hard to define. I’ve been working my brain around this one for a few weeks. My girls love the classics such as Huckleberry Finn and Where the Red Fern Grows. But I wonder, too, if I should be doing more “childish” things with my 6 year old.

    As you can probably discern, we’re pretty new to CM.

  23. Lori Southern September 3, 2009 at 10:51 am #

    Twaddle is reading that makes the eyes glaze over and the mind shift into idle.

  24. Hillary September 3, 2009 at 10:53 am #

    Twaddle is anything that can be done without engaging thought or stimulating the brain in a meaningful way. This can be spoken or written word, video games, etc. I also like the Twinkie and junk food analogies. I was thinking fluff, brain on vacation type things–trashy beach read, etc. I also agree, if it is worthwhile for adults as well as children to read (hear), then it is (probably) not twaddle.

    Great way to get my mind thinking in the right direction as I plan our library requests for the upcoming weeks :)

  25. Gay Taunton September 3, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    Twaddle is something that brings no joy, lasting memory or new idea to my daughter or our home.

  26. Amy Dement September 3, 2009 at 1:36 pm #

    “Twaddle” is transient media; a surrogate for actual thought.

  27. Nicole September 3, 2009 at 1:49 pm #

    Twaddle: the act in which the expectant mind is swindled by its waddling in the stagnant realm of the uninspired.

  28. Melissa September 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm #

    Twaddle is like watching soap operas on tv, filling your mind with meaningless garbage.

  29. Roberta September 3, 2009 at 6:39 pm #

    Primal~ CM is new to me as well. There are many wonderful and beautifully illustrated books written for younger children that grown-ups also enjoy. Like Blueberries For Sal by Robert McCloskey, or The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack just to name a couple. A few years ago I read Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, she suggests many wonderful books to read together.

  30. Kelly September 3, 2009 at 9:05 pm #

    Here’s what I’ve noticed about the difference in writing between the two types of books: Twaddle contains very short sentences. Non-twaddle has sentences that usually have at least one comma or other punctuation besides a period, and sometimes continue for two or more lines.

  31. Kendra September 3, 2009 at 9:21 pm #

    Twaddle is generally anything that is commonly geared toward or marketed to young people in mainstream American society.

  32. Karleen September 3, 2009 at 10:16 pm #

    Twaddle — ” mindless ” reading

  33. Coree September 4, 2009 at 4:22 am #

    Twaddle is pablum for the mind.

  34. Rachael September 4, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    Twaddle is the arrogance of adults to speak down to children as if they were not rational or intelligent; also, the failure to grow out of the ‘baby talk’ so frequently employed by adults to babies–it’s continued on well past the age into childhood.

  35. Monica September 4, 2009 at 8:41 am #

    Twaddle is literature or curriculum which is useless toward the goal of expanding a child’s knowledge base, enriching their vocabulary and increasing their desire for new ideas and continued learning.

  36. mj September 4, 2009 at 8:49 am #

    Twaddle is that which fails to stimulate, engage and inspire the mind and soul to mature.

  37. Richele September 4, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

    Twaddle lacks depth, offers no space to explore, and extinguishes the imagination.

  38. Liz September 4, 2009 at 9:13 pm #

    I thought of this analogy the other day. Twaddle is like a handful of frosted flakes. Not worth having, an absolute waste of calories! It does absolutely nothing nutritionally for your body or health–sugary junk. But good literature is like a beautiful fruit salad!! So sweet and lovely it is a dessert! Yet it nourishes your body. Each piece of it is packed to the brim with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and so on. Not one bit of it is a waste. Good literature–fruit salad!!! Twaddle–frosted flakes.

  39. Virna Lassiter September 6, 2009 at 10:47 pm #

    twaddle is foolish talking, when we dont have anything rich to say , we better listen.

  40. Melanie Shindeldecker September 8, 2009 at 1:37 pm #

    In our home we call twaddle, brain rot. Our definition for brain rot is anything you allow into your mind that is not edifying or fruitful in some way, so it rots your brain like bacteria does unrefrigerated meat.

  41. GinnyRae September 9, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    Twaddle is uninspired chatter that stagnates the mind and leaves the soul unchanged.

  42. Sally September 10, 2009 at 11:03 am #

    I meant to post my definition but never remembered to get around to it . I know the contest is over, but here’s my definition anyway:

    Twaddle is literature or lessons that fill up a timeslot on the child’s schedule, but do not fill his heart and mind with worthy, enriching ideas.

  43. Mrs. Koester September 14, 2009 at 7:52 am #

    Hi,
    My son who is now 10 years old, loves playing with Lego. Is it ok that he builds Pharoah’s pyramid with removable top and lego man with treasures inside and the ramps and stone carts out of legos? He spends hours making a complete scene and showing he understands Egypt and the slaves for a ‘project’ after we read about Ancient Egypt. This isn’t ‘useful’ or ‘decorative’ so does that make it Twaddle?? He wants to do all projects out of legos. Please give me suggestions for other ways to pull ‘projects’ out of living books.

    • Sonya September 15, 2009 at 11:33 am #

      It sounds like your son is doing a great job of hands-on narrating, Mrs. Koester. In fact, Charlotte talked about children’s playing what they learned from their history books. It shows that the child has formed a personal relation with the idea he read about.

      Our narration ideas may give you some other possibilities for hands-on narrations too.

  44. Mommaofmany September 23, 2009 at 12:38 pm #

    Twaddle are books that won’t be remembered tomorrow. Rich literature sticks!!

  45. Shannon November 5, 2009 at 1:04 pm #

    I am enthralled with this comment session. Thank you, Sonya and ladies!

    Splendid topic: it is really such a delicious, neverending, slice of the “Great Conversaton” that it demands “thought”. I concur with so many of the wonderful ideas laid forth here — I would just love to amplify them. I am definitely saving these posts to use for guidelines, when I find myself “pondering”, once again, “What is twaddle? — Is this book — ‘twaddle’?”

    If I were to have an original thought on this question — it would have to be this definition of what twaddle “ISN’T”:

    Twaddle “ISN’T” books that delight the parent,

    even children’s books,

    the ones that are like polished gems,

    with your mind doing the polishing

    polishing them — over and over.

    Twaddle “ISN’T” the very first books that come to mind in constructing a new “ultimate reading” list out of thin air —

    No, these books aren’t twaddle, these are the books that are worthy, the ones that truly delight — truly edify the mind and heart — through imagination.

    The books that you want to make “SURE” that ALL your children get the chance to read…these are NOT twaddle.

    Anything that fits into this “gem” quality category is NOT twaddle.

    The Story About Ping — comes to mind for me, almost first, every time. Definitely NOT twaddle! :) And I’ve even found a few children’s textbooks that fit into this gem category as well! — My children delighting in their new found knowledge — and feeling so “adult” in discussions from what they have learned; How could I call those “Twaddle”? :)

    I may have a hard time defining “twaddle”, but I am well aware of what it “isn’t”.

    Twaddle doesn’t delight the parent! :)

  46. Shannon November 5, 2009 at 1:18 pm #

    Twaddle is — books that parents don’t find delightful — to read to themselves!

  47. Jamie November 7, 2009 at 7:54 pm #

    twaddle: empty calories

  48. Silvia November 10, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    Twaddle is what results when you slaughter a potential noble idea and inspiring thought and moved by greed or other dubious intentions,you shift it through the collander of ignorance; and not regarding children as persons, you pack the result in attactively packaged containers to disguise the fact of the infamous quality of the contents.

    In fewer words, literacy reduced to consumism and instant gratification.

  49. PJ September 17, 2010 at 6:25 am #

    Twaddle bears no nutrion for the soul or mind containing neither high ideals nor literary art. A well written book will contain both intellectual discourse and the unsurpassed art of words. I love to read a book to my children that challenges the mind and soul with deep and noble thoughts and whose literary style leaves “beautiful impressions”. One such book that comes to mind is George McDonald’s Wee Sir Gibie (in it’s original). It is a delight of thought and art.

  50. Amy March 30, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    Twaddle – the books that make you cringe when your children select them at the library, but sigh as they begin to read silently as you pull out of the parking lot.

    Twaddle, in my opinion, isn’t always awful. There are days when you really want a Twinkie, and in a moment of childish delight you eat and smile. There are days when my kids read silly shallow books with glee. That doesn’t replace the other literature that they read, which they now have the appetite for, but it is fun, easy…brainless.

    It is good for us to eat a balanced diet – but every so often, on vacation, we may have pop-tarts for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and popcorn for dinner. It doesn’t ruin us, unless that is our existence.

    Twaddle – a vice, usually harmless and rarely beneficial involving the written word.

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