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

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 18 14:21:29 EST 2017


Other accounts identify the N.C. congressman as Felix Walker.

On Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 1:25 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole <
adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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
> Mercury.)
>
> [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]
>
> Garson
>
>
> 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
> >>
>

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