[Ads-l] bunkum = 'nonsense' (1838)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jan 18 11:22:00 EST 2017

Just speculating, but I wonder whether dog-Latin (or mock Latin) might be at work (or at play) here, as with “hocus-pocus” (whence perhaps “hoax”?) and various other innovations over the centuries; cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_Latin (although admittedly the write-up doesn’t include “bunkum” *or* “hocus-pocus"). Granted, if I’m right, we might expect “buncum” as the spelling, but maybe we’re dealing with mock mock Latin.  Anyway, it’s a fun, if incomplete, wiki-entry.


> On Jan 18, 2017, at 11:05 AM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> While "bunkum" is widely believed to be derived from an 1820 speech by
> a congressman from Buncombe County, NC (he was "speaking to/for
> Buncombe"), the 'nonsense' meaning of "buncombe"/"bunkum" didn't
> develop until later. The OED2 entry (which hasn't been updated since
> 1888!) has the meaning 'political claptrap' from 1850 with pure
> 'humbug' attested later. Merriam-Webster gives a first date of 1845
> for "bunkum," and the Online Etymology Dictionary says 1841.
> Here's an example from 1838 (via Newspapers.com).
> Wyoming [Pa.] Republican and Farmer's Herald, May 16, 1838, p. 3, col. 1
> It is not to be expected of us that in dealing fairly with this
> people, we are afraid of our own shadow, and must talk _Bunkum_ like
> our neighbor, sound and fury signifying nothing.
> (As HDAS notes, "bunkum" could also mean 'excellent' around the same
> time, just to confuse matters.)
> --bgz
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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