Fri October 12, 2012
Fun Words

The Word Of The Day Is Malarkey

Last night's spirited debate produced a ton of reaction online. Break-out terms during the debate were 'Biden laughing,' 'Ryan sipping,' and 'Martha Raddatz.' It was also a word: malarkey.

Here's the moment from the debate that has moved the bright glare of the spotlight to this word (skip to the 0:50 mark):

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Malarkey as "insincere or foolish talk" or "bunkum," which is another fun word in itself. Merriam-Webster says the origin is unknown, but they do list the first known use as 1929, so it doesn't look like Joe Biden would be able to claim that he invented the word.

World Wide Words has taken a stab at it, but the origins still seem to be unknown.

It’s still known in the US and to a lesser extent in the UK and elsewhere, but where this odd-looking word comes from is decidedly uncertain. What we do know is that it began to appear in the US in the early 1920s in various spellings, such as malaky, malachy, and mullarkey. Its first known user was the cartoonist T A Dorgan, in 1922, but it only began to appear widely at the end of the decade. By 1930, Variety could pun on it: “The song is ended but the Malarkey lingers on.”

The Online Etymology Dictionary also lists the origin as unknown.

A comment in Volume 61 of Western Folklore from Summer of 2002 has a little more on the etymology of malarkey. The comment notes that "the word is generally recognized as exclusive to North American English." They concede as well that the origin is unknown, but do tip their hat to the conjecture that it may derive from an Irish surname.

There you have it. Joe Biden has thrust this word into everyone's vocabulary due to last night's debate, but we won't really know where it ever came from in the first place.

This one will have to go up on the board as one of those "known unknowns."

Update 8:48 a.m.: The Loveland Reporter-Herald has a great look at the 5 other people who've been quoted using the word malarkey. Bonus points awarded for the Starship Enterprise, 'marvelous malarkey,' and Jeremey Roenick.