An oodle sounds a lot like a Monty Python character. You can imagine John Cleese dressed up as a woman, saying, “Hello, my name is Ann Oodle. I am an expert on snakes.”
Funny thing about oodle. It’s one of those words in English that has no singular. Think trousers, butterfingers, hijinks, spartypants, gadzooks. I’ve got dibs on the tinsnips. But I never have a dib on anything, not even a tinsnip. And I’ll never see oodle.
In its normal plural form, oodles means a bunch, a lot, a great many, a ton. In the sentences I harvested from Facebook recently (thank you, generous friends) I saw oodles of poodles, oodles of noodles, oodles of oodles. My friend Kate Cunningham brought Kurt Vonnegut to my attention. This from his Breakfast of Champions: “I can have oodles of charm when I want to. A lot of people have oodles of charm. Dwayne Hoover had oodles of charm.”
Oodles of charm sounded strange to me (evidently it did not to Kurt Vonnegut). Dwayne Hoover has a lot of charm, tons of charm. But oodles?
We distinguish, whether we know it or not, between count nouns and mass nouns in English. Clothes vs dresses, for example. Lots of clothes. Not ten clothes.
But it seems like oodles swings both ways, works with nouns that have mass and nouns we count. Some countable samples harvested from Facebook: oodles of cucumbers, oodles of cuddles, oodles of responses, oodles of buttons, oodles of wrinkles, oodles of seats. All countable. Then these: oodles of melted chocolate, oodles of junk, oodles of fun, oodles of tolerance, oodles of patience. Oodles of charm. Nothing to count here.
Oodles is cute (I feel slightly embarrassed using it). Its origin is uncertain. It’s slangy, informal. Probably 19th century, possibly Texas or Tennessee. And it could be an offshoot of kit and caboodle.
Looking into its origins I stumbled upon a site where writers reflected on its use. One recalls: “I once used oodles in an essay in school and got points off because ‘it wasn’t a real word.’”
Ugh, English teachers, how do we survive the damage you do? Another writer: “Granny used to always say ‘I have oodles and gobs of work to do.’” Then there’s this: “Hollywood star Harrison Ford might be getting on in years, but he still has oodles of appeal.” The consensus among writers seemed to be that oodles is cool. One cheeky individual said, “You should definitely say oodles more. Preferably at academic conferences.”
Possible alternatives to oodles these writers endorsed: boatload, shipload, shitload, butt load, shit ton.
Gotta love gobs.
Maybe because oodles ends in -s, I want it attached to a count noun. “Oodles of appeal” just sounds off to me. But then gobs of appeal does not. Harrison Ford has gobs of appeal. And I’m okay with that. So this oodles thing, it’s not scientific. It’s personal.
Of the samples I collected, 55 percent linked oodles to a count noun; 45 percent to a mass noun. So maybe, just maybe, oodles more frequently precedes a count noun. If we really wanted to do science, it would take an ambitious research project to verify this count/mass thing, a survey of oodles use in English across the country, in the English speaking world. We would need a grant.
Serious research costs oodles of money.