some Ballyhoo

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Sep 7 15:33:49 UTC 2007

HDAS does recognize the _ballyhoo_ sense "barker," but only from 1915.  Stephen's 1898 ex. is a clear and valuable antedating. "Barker" has been in use for centuries and why "ballyhoo" would butt in the late 19th is a bit mysterious.

  My linguistic sense tells me that the 1914 ex. of ballyhoos"going at full blast" refers to the free shows. IMOO, barkers without electric amplification would be poorly described as going "at full blast."


Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Stephen Goranson
Subject: some Ballyhoo

OED has:
ballyhoo n. "orig. U.S. [Etym. unknown.]" "A barker's touting speech; hence,
blarney, bombastic nonsense; extravagant advertisement of any kind." 1901....

HDAS has:
ballyhoo 2 n. {orig. unkn. see note] Circus & Carnival
1. a flamboyant free performance given outside a circus or carnival attraction,
in an attempt to lure customers to buy a ticket for the show inside....{1990}
and 1901....
2. a barker's noisy advertising pitch....

{Literature includes American Speech 1935 289-91; 1936 101-2; 1945 184-6; 1965
32-9; Int. J. Am. Ling. 1957 302-3; Mencken; Partridge; etc.]

Here I merely raise the possiblity that Ballyhoo may have referred to the
speaker of such before the speech, the barker rather than the bark.

1898 The Milwaukee Sentinel, (Milwaukee, WI) [Gale 19th C newspapers] Wednesday,
December 21, 1898; pg. 8; col D
Woman's Talk about Snakes: A Cuban Expert Tells How to Buy Them
She [the snake handler] is called Inez Possetti and the accurate and
conscientious "Ballyhoo" who extols the merits of the show
describes her as a "dark-eyed senorita from the Pearl of the Antilles."

An OED 1914 cite can be read as referring to a ballyhoo as a person:
1914 Philad. Even. Post 9 May, A live, little park full of side show
tents..with..barkers spieling before the entrances and all the ballyhoos going
at full blast.


The Congregationalist, (Boston, MA) Wednesday, June 23, 1880; pg. 5; Issue 25;
col D Multiple Classified Advertisements An ad mentions Harpers July issue
Ballyhoo bird sham story, cited in HDAS.

The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago, IL) Sunday, May 20, 1888; Issue 57; p. 21 col B
The Doctor at Maud's: A Story of the Kentucky Mountains, Eva Wilder
'Twuz a store whar they kep' bams n' balsams n' setttlers powders n' linymen's
n' all the list o' them paton' medicines ye hev heerd me cuss tell the air wor
blue ez Ballyhos [sic]."

New-Hampshire Statesman and State Journal, (Concord, NH) Friday, February 21,
1845; Issue 1239; p.1 col A
Miscellany. From the Boston Mercantile Journal. Catching Fish at Sea. The
In less than two minutes I was ready for action, and I saw the noble fish only a
few fathoms distant, shooting ahead, as if he beheld a dainty morsel, in the
shaps of a flying fish or a ballyhoo, and was eager to transfer it from the
chill and bitter waters of the sea, to his snug office of discount and
deposit.....My mate, Mr. Starbuck, a worthy and efficient seaman, from
[This 1845 mention predates Moby Dick; Melville of course used the phrase
"ballyhoo of blazes."
OED gives:
Sailors' term of contempt for a vessel which they dislike for any reason.
1836 Knickerbocker Aug. 203 Jack Marlinspike..couldn't get a situation afore the
mast of a Ballyhoo coasting-brig. 1847 H. MELVILLE Omoo lxxvi. 295 Steer clear
of the likes of this ballyhoo of blazes as long as ye live. 1929 F. C. BOWEN
Sea Slang 6 Ballyhoo of blazes..the last word of contempt for a slovenly ship.]

In 1889ff Ballyhoo was a racehorse name, reported in many papers.

The Daily Picayune, (New Orleans, LA) Saturday, August 10, 1895; pg. 6; Issue
198; col D Vox Populi The Smoke Ordinance Suburban Resident.
knocked thim citizens into Ballyhoo

The Milwaukee Journal, (Milwaukee, WI) Wednesday, January 27, 1897; pg. 7; col B
Cronyn Replies to Burgess Another Chapter in the Dispute over the Johnston
Emergency Hospital Wm. J. Cronyn, M. D., President City Hospital Association.
[He asks sarcastically is a certain hospital should be] "dubbed the Ballyhoo?"

Hench in Am. Speech 1945 185 asked if there were expressions such as "a ballyhoo
of a galley" or a ballyhoo of a man/yarn/words. A brief look didn't turn up
examples before 1920.

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

Choose the right car based on your needs.  Check out Yahoo! Autos new Car Finder tool.

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list