Friday, October 24, 2008

Who knew? The etymology of 'bunkum'

Am in the process of reading Bill Bryson's excellent Made In America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States, when I came across an entry on the now-forgotten 1820s congressman Felix Walker (1753-1828).

Walker, it seems, was "accused of speaking drivel" when "he replied that he was speaking to the people of Buncombe, County, North Carolina, his district," Bryson writes. "Almost immediately his congressional colleagues began referring to any political claptrap or bombast as speaking to Buncombe."

Bryson goes on to say that the prhase's use went beyond Washington and morphed to buncombe, bunkum and also just plain bunk.

"Thus with a single fatuous utterance, the forgotten Felix Walker managed to inspire half a page of dictionary entries."

Well done, Congressman Walker.

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