April 07, 2005
On "Debunking"
Posted by Gordon Smith

Yesterday, I wrote a post that has been bringing a lot of traffic to this sight. The original title of that post was "James Lindgren & The Debunking of a Historian." Even as I wrote that title, I wondered, can you debunk a person? Or just the person's claims? Without fully resolving the underlying issue -- but recognizing the more common usage -- I have changed the title to "James Lindgren & The Debunking of 'Arming America'" (so he is debunking the book, not the author).

In looking at this issue this morning, I stumbled across a story about the origins of the word "bunk" at Dictionary.com. A slightly longer and clearer version of that story is located on the website of the North Carolina Secretary of State:

From 1817 to 1823, western North Carolina, including the proud county of Buncombe, sent Felix Walker to the House of Representatives in Washington.  He was a glib and garrulous talker, and doubtless it was his very trivial and high-sounding speeches that found favor with the word-loving mountain voters of the day.

On February 25, 1820, during the congressional debate on the Missouri Compromise, Walker signaled that he wished to make a speech.  But so protracted had been the debate and so weary were the members of the House that a colleague told Walker that no one wished to hear him at that time.  The persistent fellow said that he would take only a few moments, for he wished merely a chance to get his speech reported in the newspapers and in that way provide his constituents with solid evidence that he was doing a good job in Washington.  "I shall not be speaking to the House," he confessed, "but to Buncombe."

But in the chambers of the House, "the question was called for so clamorously and so perseveringly that Mr. W. could proceed no farther than to move that the Committee rise," which it refused to do.  When later the representative delivered his oration and had it printed in the newspaper, it was agreed that truly it was a speech for Buncombe, meaning that it was frivolous, repetitious, and unnecessary.

Felix Walker was not downcast.  He had done the thing he needed to do, and that was that.  Came the comment:  "Walker's speech was buncombe--no doubt about it."

The word caught on.  Eventually it was spelled bunkum, meaning any nonsensical language, then shortened to bunk.  In such a way did a beautiful mountain county in North Carolina add a new a useful word to the English dictionary.

Now you know the rest of the story ...

Miscellany | Bookmark

TrackBacks (0)

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Links to weblogs that reference On "Debunking":

Recent Comments
Popular Threads
Search The Glom
The Glom on Twitter
Archives by Topic
Archives by Date
January 2019
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    
Miscellaneous Links