[Ads-l] Buckley's chance

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Wed Nov 7 10:17:35 EST 2018

It's good to have Green's Dictionary of Slang (with updates) available gratis. Thanks.

The "Buckley's chance" entry may merit a new look.  A review of Green's book Stories of Slang in The Times Literary Supplement, Feb. 16, 2018, p. 10 mentions two potential etymologies. Either from William Buckley, an escaped convict who somehow survived among the Australian Aborigines for decades. Or, later, Mars Buckley, a co-founder of Buckley and Nunn; TLS reported that Green prefers the latter. The pun Buckley or none was apparently a later adaptation to a preexisting collocation (here I agree with Ozwords April 2011 p. 7 online, revising the Oct. 2000 discussion). No chance is not the only definition of Buckley's chance. It can mean a quite slim chance, a very long shot. In Trove [Australian] Newspapers (online) Green's Dictionary here can be antedated to 1887. (Also there is a horse named Buckley's chance in 1872, though that may be a coincidence.)

William Buckley's story, published (and reprinted) years after his rejoining the colonists, tells that he first happened upon a friendly group of Aborigines who fed and cared for him. Then, later, he took a spear from a burial and when another group of Aborigines saw him, they--reportedly--thought he was in effect that man returned. Whatever the veracity of those details, he surely was away for many years, and his story lends plausibility to surviving despite perceived long odds. But maybe further antedatings will be found.

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

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