malachy, malaky, malarkey?

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Sep 29 15:23:27 UTC 2007

HDAS II (1997) suggests "perh. obscurely fr. the family name;  semantic devel. unkn."

  It also confirms McEvoy's spelling of "malaky."

  It also contains, via Leonard Zwilling, a bracketed 1922 TAD quot., "Yes, Milarkey," which appears (perh. ambiguously) to be an ex. of the surname only.


Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Stephen Goranson
Subject: malachy, malaky, malarkey?

I know that several of you are quite familiar with the work of Peter Tamony.
I've read his "Malarkey: TAD, and Its San Francisco Roots." Western Folklore
33.2 April 1974 pp.158-62 (available on JSTOR and reprinted in McLain). And I
checked Peter Tamony: Word Man of San Francisco's Mission by Marjorie McLain
(1986); A TAD Lexicon, Leonard Zwilling (1993); The Tamony FS, Maledicta 7?
[that number from memory]; and TAD: A Collection of Cartoons by Thomas
Dorgan 1877-1929, published by The Museum of Cartoon Art.

There's no doubt that TAD and Tamony have lots of insight into slang.
Yet, if I
may say so, I'm not sure the evidence for the origin of malarkey is entirely
secure or stringent. It may well seem temerarious or a long shot to suggest an
alternate possiblility, but here goes, with the hope that collaborative
research may help, whatever the origin turns out to be, whether a boastful
oyster shucker, Jerry Mullarkey [sic] or otherwise.

Mullarkey might have become malarkey, but the link seems tenuous.
Tamony did not
present direct evidence. Did TAD ever discuss this? OED comments that "no
connection is known" between Mullarkey and malarkey. OED notes a 1922 TAD
cartoon with Milarkey [sic], "presumably a fictitous place name," presumably
not relevant. OED also notes the--I'd say quite unlikely--proposed Greek

The OED definition and first three cites:

Humbug, bunkum, nonsense; a palaver, racket. (Usually of an event, activity,
idea, utterance, etc., seen as trivial, misleading, or not worthy of

1924 T. A. DORGAN in Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin) 2 Apr. 6 Malachy--you
said it. 1929 J. P. MCEVOY Hollywood Girl vii. 102 It's a wonder you
notice me,
I told him. That's a lot of malaky, says he. 1930 Variety 29 Oct., The song is
ended but the Malarkey lingers on.

The full 1929 title is Simon and Schuster Present The Super-Colossal Wonder
Picture Epoch of This or Any Other Century, Hollywood Girl.

Does anyone have a copy of the 1924 cartoon? I'd be grateful for a copy or a
description. Does anyone have additional pre-1930 citations?

If the first spelling is Malachy and the second is Malaky--both without an r,
perhaps we should consider possible origin with that spelling. There is a
well-known medieval Irish Archbishop Malachy. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote his
biography. Eventually a prophecy in Latin, claiming to predict the next 111 or
112 popes, was attributed to (St.) Malachy. These prophecies are examined at
least when each new pope takes office, as in 1922. Many regard these
as malarkey.

Stephen Goranson

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