[Ads-l] Bunkum maybe (?) antedated to 1824, Re: [ADS-L] bunkum = 'nonsense' (1838)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 18 14:28:32 EST 2017


There are plenty of ambiguous "bunkum" cites from the 1820s and '30s --
some in the sense of "excellent" noted by HDAS, some with an unspecified
meaning, perhaps simply used as a funny-sounding word. I agree with Larry
that it sounds a bit like a "hocus pocus" mock-Latin incantation. So when
the "talking to Buncombe" story circulated, that made it easy to assimilate
"Buncombe" into the silly, nonsensical realm of "bunkum."


On Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 12:55 PM, Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu>
wrote:

> CURIOUS DUEL
>
> Two Frenchmen had a dispute some time last week [...they armed quite
> heavily and elaborately ...] the day appointed, one of the party thinking
> New-Hampshire was the place, and the other Rhode-Island, each took his
> road, and we have not heard one single report as yet; this misunderstanding
> might be by mutual consent; when the challenge was given, they whispered so
> loud, that Wilson, the city crier's voice, was that of a humming bird to
> it. As they are travelling in opposite directions, they calculate upon long
> shots.
>
> MONS. BUNKUM
>
> 9 July 1824 Friday p. 3 col. 2, New-England Galaxy and United States
> Literary Advisor [Boston] [ProQuest]
>
>
> ________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society <...> on behalf of Laurence Horn <...>
> Sent: Wednesday, January 18, 2017 11:22 AM
> To: ...
> Subject: Re: [ADS-L] bunkum = 'nonsense' (1838)
>
> 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.
>
> LH
>
> > On Jan 18, 2017, at 11:05 AM, Ben Zimmer <..> 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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