Bunkum

The word above is not a review of Cassidy’s book, though this would certainly be my conclusion if it were. This is yet another stupid claim made by Cassidy, who says that the American slang expression bunkum comes from the Irish word buanchumadh.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, the real origin of bunkum is well known. Felix Walker, a 19th-century congressman from North Carolina, whose district included Buncombe County, made a long-winded speech during the discussions that led to the 1820 passage of the Missouri Compromise. As he was filibustering away, several people asked him to stop but he carried on, stating that the people of his district expected it, and that he was bound to make a speech for Buncombe.

Thus buncombe or bunkum came to mean foolish talk. Grant Barrett deals with this in his excellent post at http://grantbarrett.com/humdinger-of-a-bad-irish-scholar. Check it out!

The second problem is that the word buanchumadh doesn’t exist. It isn’t in any dictionary or corpus. I have never heard it used or seen it in print. Furthermore, it looks and sounds odd. Why? I have mentioned before how Cassidy combined things in odd ways because he had no knowledge of how the language is really used. This is a perfect example. In general terms, buan is used with words which describe states, not actions. Buanghrá is eternal love, buanchónaí is permanent abode, and buanfhírinne is an eternal truth. But cumadh is an action, not a state. You could say bíonn siad ag síorchumadh scéalta (they are perpetually making up stories) but buanchumadh is just weird. In the real world, far away from the fantasy Oirish kingdom of Cassidia, there are a number of genuine ways of saying a long-drawn-out story in Irish. The word fadscéal is defined by Ó Dónaill as ‘a long-drawn-out story’ and there is also the lovely expression scéal ó Shamhain go Bealtaine, which means ‘a story from November to May!’

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