Monday, October 26, 2015

Just A Lot of Bunk

Listening to the multitudes of Presidential candidates, you can't be blamed if you mutter in response to some of their outrageous statements, “That’s just bunk”—meaning utter, unadulterated, unmitigated nonsense.

Bunk is a shortened form of bunkum, and the origin of that word would probably annoy Col. Edward Buncombe of the Revolutionary Army if he were still around. It came about in 1820, when Felix Walker, the congressman from Buncombe County, North Carolina (named for said Col. Buncombe), was addressing the House of Representatives on the question of whether to admit Missouri to the Union as a free or slave state. As his lengthy speech wore on, and on, his colleagues stopped listening and drifted away, and eventually Walker was speaking to empty benches. But still he droned on. Later he was asked why he had continued to talk when no one was listening.  “Oh,” he said, “I’m speaking to Buncombe.” 

In its first known printed appearance, in 1828 in Niles’ Weekly Register, the word appeared as bunkum. The Wilimington Commercial in 1849 applied the term specifically to the utterances of "politicians who go for re-election merely."

By the 1830s the word was shortened to bunk, and used in a general way for bombastic political speeches or any senseless talk. The term debunk originated in the 1923 novel Bunk by  William Woodward,  to mean to "take the bunk out of things." H. L. Mencken called his collection of essays on 1920s and 1930s politics A Carnival of Buncombe. 

The word hokum, which entered the language around 1900, meaning “nonsense with the intent to deceive,” is a portmanteau word, derived from combining hocus-pocus with bunkum. 

Bunkum has nothing to with the “bunco squad” that Sergeant Joe Friday was often assigned to on the old radio-TV show Dragnet. Referring to a police unit specializing in apprehending con artists, it derives from a confidence game called bunco, similar to three-card monte, which in turn came from a Spanish card game called banca (“bank”).

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is sometimes also known as the Bard of Bunkum, as you will shortly see: 

            Officer Franco, whose assignment was bunco,   
            Took a wee drinko--in fact, he had cinco. 
            Under a ginkgo, his face turned quite blanco, 
            And he yelled, “I’m no pinko, it’s just that I’m stinko.”


No comments:

Post a Comment