Simanaitis Says

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YESTERDAY IN Part 1, I added the word “bunco” to my Etymology for our Time series. Today, getting involved are the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo, and—are you surprised?—the U.S. Congress.

The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary chooses to spell it “bunko,” with the same idea of swindling in its definition. It offers a citation from an 1883 Philadelphia Times article: “There is not a smoother-tongued fellow in the great army of bunko-steerers.”

On a nearby microprinted page are the related terms “buncombe” and “bunkum.” The OED traces these directly to the U.S. Congress during the 1820 Missouri Question, the debate involving extension of slavery into new states.

The congressman representing Buncombe County, North Carolina, apparently made a pest of himself on the matter. The OED says, “… the people of his district expected it and that he was bound to ‘make a speech for Buncombe.’ ”

It didn’t take long before general congressional tendencies of “buncombe” and “bunkum” were recognized.

Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo, by Hyman E. Goldin, Frank O’Leary, and Morris Lipsius, Twayne Publishers, 1950.

My concluding example of bunco comes from the Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo, 1950: “Imagine that dude (fellow) hip to (familiar with) all the angles and blowing his roll (losing his money) on a pool bunco.”

Yep, that just about summed it up in 1950. And today too. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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