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.
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).
“. . . the sort of diluted twaddle which is commonly thrust upon children” (Vol. 1, p. 176).
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).
“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).
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).
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).
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:
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. Rather than naming names of items you consider twaddle, we’re looking for definitions that will help us evaluate.