How did “bunk” originate?

January 24, 2017 | Author: | Posted in General Knowledge, History, Language, Literature

The original form of this word was Buncombe, which has been corrupted into bunkum and bunk. It originated in the United States House of Representatives on February 25, 1820, at the close of the historic debate on the Missouri Compromise. Felix Walker, a naive old mountaineer, represented the North Carolina district including Buncombe County. He was known among his colleagues as the “Old Oil Jug” because of his gift of gab. When the House was otherwise almost unanimous in demanding a vote on the question, Walker insisted on making a speech. Several members gathered around him and begged him to desist. He attempted to continue, however, declaring that he was not talking to the House, but that his constituents expected him to say something on the subject and that he was bound to “make a speech for Buncombe.” The Annals of Congress reported at the time that “the question was called for so clamorously and so persistently that Mr. Walker could proceed no farther than to move that the Committee rise.” Buncombe came to mean any humbug or claptrap, especially insincere and bombastic political talk intended for the galleries. As early as 1828 a writer in Niles’ Weekly Register observed that talking for Buncombe “is an old common saying at Washington, when a member of Congress is making one of those hum-drum and unlistened-to ‘long talks’ which have lately become so fashionable—not with the hope of being heard in the House, but to afford an enlightened representative a pretence for sending a copy of his speech to his constituents.” The term quickly spread to the entire English-speaking world. Thomas Carlyle used Buncombe and Charles Kingsley bunkum. Buncombe County was created in 1791, and was named for Edward Buncombe, a colonel in the Continental Army, who was wounded at Germantown in 1777 and who died a prisoner of war in Philadelphia the next year. Debunk, meaning “to divest of bunk,” was coined by W. E. Woodward, the American author, who first used it in a book entitled Bunk, published in 1923.

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