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

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 18 13:25:10 EST 2017

Here is the text of the 1834 citation about Bunkum which suggests (to
me) a possible origin for the term:

Date: June 12, 1834
Newspaper: Vicksburg Whig
Newspaper Location: Vicksburg, Mississippi
Quote Page 4, Column 1
Database: Newspapers.com

(Mr. Leigh distinguished Senator from Virginia describing Mr. Benton
of Missouri: Report from Washington Correspondent of the New Bedford

[Begin excerpt - please double check]
A representative here many years since, who belonged to Bunkum Co. N.
C. was asked why he made such long speeches to deserted benches. "Oh,
said he, I make them for my constituents, I make them for Bunkum. Many
of Mr. Benton's speeches are made for Bunkum. Take one of these
speeches, interlard it frequently with the words "amerikin pepil and
amerikin Sinit, (for so he pronounces) make longer and now constant
allusions to the Trojan horse, the Star Chamber, John Wilkes and the
whigs of the Revolushin,' and imagine it delivered by such a man as I
have described, and you have some notion of Mr. Senator Benton"
[End excerpt]


On Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 1:01 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> Ben and all: There is a great citation that gives an origin story here:
> 12 Jun 1834
> Vicksburg Whig (Vicksburg, Mississippi)
> https://www.newspapers.com/image/225027443/?terms=Bunkum
> On Wed, 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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