There is a word that will not appear here but has found its way into the Missoulian a whopping 63 times over the years.
Its literal meaning has as much to do with its everyday use as, say, the excrement of a male bovine has to do with baloney.
Let’s call it “balderdash.”
Balderdash raised its head on these pages in — go figure — the 1970s. Missoulian.newspapers.com digital archives date back to 1890 but the word's first appearance wasn't until 1972.
Reporter Gary Langley covered a guest speaker at the University of Montana by the name of, yes, Gene Marine. Marine was a 45-year-old author and outspoken activist from California. He really was a Marine (father’s name was Fred Marine) and he served with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve during World War II.
His target on the night of April 8, in Room 111 of the Liberal Arts building, was industry’s disdain for those like him who railed against belching smokestacks and the like.
As Langley reported, Marine accused manufacturers of diverting attention with "gimmicks" such as recyclable beer cans “and attempting to make the public think it is responsible for pollution — not industry.”
"There is one word for this," said Marine. "This is balderdash. The enemy is not us; it is them.”
Ed Coyle was Missoulian editor at the time, and had been since 1960. He was joined by managing editor Rod Deckert in 1978. Both left the Missoulian in 1982, Coyle retiring and Deckert moving on to greener pastures. In their combined tenures, the paper was fertilized by “balderdash” 27 times in a 10-year span.
For the next 12 years Brad Hurd ran the newsroom. The word of concern appeared 21 times under his watch, including a record six from June through October 1987. It has made it in just 16 times in the 25 years since, most recently in August 2017.
That one popped up in the midst of a long interview that contributing writer Brian D’Ambrosio had with North Carolina songwriter Malcolm Holcombe in advance of the River City Roots Festival.
“I was thirsty for experiencing a part of this planet and life, and I used to think that it was the norm to beat yourself up and persecute yourself, just to spit out some grandiose commentary on paper,” Holcombe said. “Reflecting on that, that's balderdash. It (alcohol abuse) is not a prerequisite in life for any occupation — it's a fallacy."
From the board rooms of Missoula to protest marches in the 1970s, from airport management and reservation politics to letters to the editor, balderdash has been spread quite liberally through most of the last five decades of this 146-year-old newspaper.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., got in a double dip in July 1990. Dingell, who died Thursday at age 92, was the powerful head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was a newcomer to the joint clean air conference committee that Dingell headed.
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Sherry Devlin, who was Missoulian editor from 2005 to 2015, was the environmental reporter when she wrote about a showdown between the zealous Baucus and the foot-dragging Dingell, a longtime champion of the auto industry. As reported in Congressional Quarterly, Dingell turned the word we know as balderdash into a verb in a face-to-face meeting.
“I won’t balderdash you if you won’t balderdash me,” he told Baucus.
Turns out politics have long made for good balderdashing (and the sun rises in the east).
In 1987, Dick Manning introduced Missoula state senator Mike Halligan and his longshot bid for governor.
“I think if I have a chance to speak to people one on one," Halligan said. "They're going to see I'm not going to lie to them. I'm not going to balderdash them."
These days, editor Kathy Best says the policy is to replace the offending word not with balderdash but with “bull----.”
But some references can’t be hyphened away. From 1988 to 1991, the paper ran the monthly syndicated feature “Harper’s Index.” The final one ran on Nov. 1, 1991. After listing the percentage increase of the U.S. Gross National Product during the first three years of the Carter administration (13), followed by that of the first three years of the Bush administration (3), came this:
"Number of times Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) used the word balderdash in public speeches last summer: 17."
Then there was the Out and About listing in September 2011 for the feature film of the Peace & Justice Film Series at UM. It wasn’t called “Balderdash.”
Coyle was fine with Gordon Dillow’s coverage of a protest march in downtown Missoula in December 1977. Roughly 400 shouting, chanting students and a few farmers marched through Missoula to protest faculty cuts at UM, declining farm prices and, for good measure, world hunger. Dillow wrote that among the placards they carried was one that read: “Cut the Balderdash. Not the Teachers!”
A few months earlier, in June 1977, reporter Carol Van Valkenburg let Ward 3 Alderman Bill Bradford have the last word in a confrontation at City Hall.
Fellow councilman Bill Boggs accused Bradford of grandstanding for political purposes by bringing up an issue that was better handled by the mayor’s office.
Bradford disagreed, sort of.
“Half the balderdash that comes up here is just done for effect,” he contended.