[Ads-l] Buckley's chance

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Tue Jun 26 06:21:58 EDT 2018

This collocation is Australian, currently usually meaning practically no chance. (Years ago, I speculated, based on then-available antedatings, that perhaps it originated in New Zealand, but subsequent finds excluded that.) Apparently there are two main origin proposals. After William Buckley (1780-1856), a convict who escaped in 1803 and spent many years (to 1835) living among Aborigines in the bush. Or after a drapery store in Melbourne, called Buckley and Nunn. A review of Jonathon Green's 2017 book The Stories of Slang (Times Literary Supplement 16 Feb this year p. 10) conveys Green's preference for the Buckley store (1851ff), though the reviewer oddly calls the businessman Mars Buckley "the lawyer." Buckley/none, get it? I haven't read the book yet, so maybe I'm missing something (anyone know?), but I consider William Buckley the more likely source. He was famous; whole books present him. He, reportedly, picked a spear from a burial as a walking stick and some welcoming Aborigines thought him the revival of that man. The meaning of "Buckley's chance" may have veered from ~ "if you're as lucky to survive as he did--long shot" to sometimes "no way."

Ozwords April 2011 by Bruce Moore (p. 7) gives, I think good evidence that linking Buckley and Nunn is a secondary development:

New evidence, however, can perhaps
shed some light on this matter. I recently
discovered [[[available at Trove]]] an early use of the phrase
‘Buckley and none’ that has been missed
by researchers. It occurs in a newspaper
account of the proceedings of the Victorian
Parliament in November 1901:
An indication of what prospect there
is of getting the tariff through the
House before Christmas was afforded
yesterday. After members, in a
repentant mood, had metaphorically
fallen on each other’s neck and
kissed each other, whilst their good
resolutions were like the atmosphere
fresh, when every member spoke
briefly, concisely, and to the point, they
managed to dispose of three not highly
contentious items. If items of great
importance are not to be slummed
through in the small hours, when most
of the members are asleep, there is
only one chance of getting through
the tariff before Christmas, and that is
Buckley’s—or, according to the local
adaptation of the phrase, it is Buckley
and none.
The speaker here knows the standard
version of the phrase (Buckley’s), but he also
knows what he calls ‘a local adaptation’ of it:
Buckley and none. This local or Melbournian
variation is clearly the pun onNunn/none,
indicating that the original phrase (Buckley’s
chance or hope or show) had nothing to do
with the Melbourne firm, and that it was
only after the phrase had been established
that Melbournians could formulate their
own witty local variation, starting with the
common ground of ‘Buckley’ and then
varying the idiom with the addition of the pun"

Stephen Goranson

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

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