A decade ago I quoted Kornei Chukovsky:
If the youth of those days [the 1840s] happened to use in conversation words unknown to earlier generations such as fakt [fact], rezul’tat [result], erunda [nonsense], solidarnost’ [solidarity; joint responsibility], the representatives of those earlier generations declared that Russian speech suffered no small loss from such an influx of highly vulgar words.
At the time I didn’t realize how chronologically precise he was, but now, reading Nekrasov‘s “Петербургские углы” (Petersburg corners) in his 1845 anthology Fiziologiya Peterburga (The physiology of Petersburg; see this post) I discover that it was exactly at that time, in mid-decade, that the word was coming into printed use:
—Ерунда(*), сказалъ дворовый человѣкъ, замѣтивъ, что я зачитался.
“Erunda*,” said the house-serf, noticing that I had been reading for a very long time.
And the footnote says:
(*)Лакейское слово, равнозначительное слову — дрянь.
*A servant’s/servile word, synonymous with dryan’ [trash, rubbish].
I went to the Национальный корпус русского языка and found that the oldest cite was from the same year, 1845: Druzhinin (then twenty, just the right age to be picking up the latest lexical innovations) wrote in his diary for October 11, “Кончил «Дедушку и внучку» Диккенса. Ерунда, но временами довольно милая.” (I finished “Grandfather and granddaughter” [presumably The Old Curiosity Shop] by Dickens. Erunda, but quite pleasing at times.)
The origin of the word is unclear. Vasmer derives it from Latin gerundium (via seminary-student slang), but Vinogradov says this is as much a wild guess as Leskov’s suggestion that it is from German hier und da. But it seems to have started out meaning ‘trash’ and gradually changed to mean ‘nonsense’ (joining synonyms like чушь, чепуха, белиберда, вздор, дичь, and мура — Russian sure has a lot of words for it!).
The house-serf, by the way, is illiterate (he’s in Petersburg on obrok [quitrent]), and at one point he blows up at the narrator, who’s showing him some poetry:
Ты мнѣ этимъ не тычь! Что ты мнѣ этимъ тычешь! Я, братъ, не дворянинъ: грамотѣ не умѣю. Какая грамота нашему брату? грамоту будешь знать — дѣло свое позабудешь.
Don’t poke that at me! Why are you poking that at me? I’m no nobleman, brother: I don’t know how to read. What use is reading to people like me? If you know how to read, you forget your business.
Plato would have nodded in recognition.