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EBarnacle Hokum - Definition or sources ? (26) RE: Hokum - Definition or sources ? 23 Sep 18

There is a definition of Hokum which comes from an area in North Carolina. It relates to buncombe and hokum. I posted this a year or two ago on another site.

I was reading this morning and spotted this article. From "The North Carolina Miscellany," edited by Richard Walser, 1962, pp 150-151, University of North Carolina Press. [I am not sure whether this is our friend Dick Walser.]


A word whose meaning is known to everyone is buncombe. It is a respectable word although the average person would probably think it slang. It does not, however, become slang until it is shortened to bunk.

If one greeted a friend with some such statement as "This morning is deleterious to my health , for these miasmic atmospheric conditions cause my olfactory organs to scent odors which disturb my psyche"--well, we would just know he was putting on airs without really trying to say anything. The friend probably would rely, "Uh, that's just bunk." and he would be right.

How did that fancy language get to be buncombe?

The word is one of the few in the English language to have a definite North Carolina origin.

Today, down highway 64 beyond Plymouth in Washington County is the little town of Roper. Nearby an official highway marker informs the motorist that Buncombe Hall once stood one mile North. During Revolutionary times, the estate was the home of Edward Buncombe, Colonel of the 5th North Carolina Regiment of the Continental Line. In 1778 the colonel was captured at the Battle of Germantown and shortly thereafter died a prisoner of the British. He was one of North Carolina's heroes of the Revolution.

When a new county in the western part of the state was created in 1797, it was named Buncombe County to honor the memory of the gallant Colonel. Asheville is the county seat of this beautiful mountain region.

So far, so good. Buncombe is an eminently proud name. But several decades later, in the 16th Congress (1819--1821), a local politician from Buncombe County was representative of North Carolina in Washington, D.C.. He was a glib and garrulous talker, and doubtless it was his very trivial and high-sounding verbiage which found favor with the word-loving mountain voters of the day. One morning heroes to his feet in the Congress and spoke on a political matter in s manner dear to himself and to his Buncombe County folk back home. As soon as he began, his meaningless language flowed mellifluously. The mountain voters would have been thrilled with his twaddling oratory. Not so his Congressional colleagues in the House of Representatives. Soon the members began to leave the hall and eventually the speaker found himself with few listeners. He was not downcast. He finished what he had to say.

Later. when he was asked his reason for displaying such a torrent of palaver, he replied, "I was not speaking to the House, but to Buncombe."

Then came the comment: "And buncombe your talk certainly was."

The word stuck.

First buncombe was used to mean "any insincere speechmaking intended merely to please political constituents." Then it was identified with any hokum--any nonsensical and meaningless language. And finally the work was shortened to bunk.

So is this story all bunk? Not at all. It is quite true. With his chatter, Congressman Felix Walker brought disrespect to the Old Colonel and the great county named for him, but he had added a new and useful noun to the English language.


Considering how many public utterances we see from our various politicians which are meant to be believed b their "base." I felt this was a bit of useful trivia. Eric

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