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

Margaret Lee 0000006730deb3bf-dmarc-request at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Thu Jan 19 06:15:52 EST 2017

My husband sometimes calls something that is utter nonsense, 'bunk.'  No doubt, a shortening of 'bunkum.'
--Margaret Lee

      From: Peter Reitan <pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM>
 Sent: Wednesday, January 18, 2017 3:12 PM
 Subject: Re: bunkum = 'nonsense' (1838)
As for spelling, the location in North Carolina was spelled "Bunkum" in at least one book (1816) which was not written in humorous dialect or spelling. Henry Ker, Travels Through the Western Interior of the United States, Elizabethtown, NJ, printed for the author (HathiTrust).

"From Greenville, I went to Bunkum in North-Carolina, a small town subject to different titles, such as Upper and Lower Hog-thief, Scurmagefill, and Scuffletown.  Whether these terms correspond with the general character of the inhabitants, or not, I am unable to determine."

Another origin story, of sorts, appeared in Niles Register, Volume 35, Whole Number 889, September 27, 1828, page 66.  The expression "Talking to Bunkum" was already considered old and common in Washington DC.

"Talking to Bunkum." This is an old and common saying at Washington, when a member of congress is making one of those hum-drum and unlistened to "long talks" which have lately become so fashionable --- not with the hope of being heard in the house, but to afford an enlightened representative a pretence for sending a copy of his speech to his constituents, the making of many which have been paid for, as a tailor would be for making a coat, or the latter a hat.  We say his (ital.) speech, for it is just as much so as his hat, and purchased with his money, if not gratuitously manufactured by the hand of a friend. This is cantly called "talking to Bunkum:" an "honorable gentleman" long ago, having said that he was not speaking to the house, but the people of a certain county in his district, which, in local phrase, he called "Bunkum."  But these are not the only description of persons who "talk to bunkum" - for the most intelligent and amusing, as well as the most ignorant and foolish members of legislative bodies do it - bu the object of both is to misrepresent facts. . . .

. . . Now Mr. Huskisson did not know --- certainly did not know! that American tobacco, costing 2d. or 3d. per lb. at Richmond or Petersburg was subject to a duty of three shillings per lb. on consumption in Great Britain --- and was "talking to Bunkum!"

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


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

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