View Full Version : "malark(e)y

03-04-2003, 09:31 PM
Anyone have any theories/information about the etymology of "malarkey", meaning crap/bullsh*t/nonsense?

03-04-2003, 09:41 PM
According to Take Our Word For It (http://www.takeourword.com/et_k-m.html):
If you ever find the etymology of malarkey anywhere, it will likely be a bunch of malarkey, because the origins of this word are not known. All that is known is that it originated in America in the late 1920s and has meant approximately the same thing since then: `pretentious language that means nothing.' Both spellings are acceptable.

03-04-2003, 09:59 PM
I checked the "usual places" before posting here, so I am not surprised that "TOWFIt" agrees with the "origin unknown" answer.

I came to The Straight Dope because I came up empty elsewhere...

Urban Ranger
03-04-2003, 10:28 PM
Malarkey. :D

Good word

03-04-2003, 10:35 PM
Indeed. I think it must have been a person who was full of "malarkey"...perhaps a Boss Tweed style politician or something like that...

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
03-04-2003, 10:40 PM
The Word Detective agrees that it's unknown:

03-04-2003, 10:48 PM
OK. Its "unknown" according to every standard source, apparently. I was thinking about the origin of "OK" which was discovered by the late linguist Allen Reid....I am sure that it was "unknown" until he did the detective work, uncovered its origin.

Thought maybe someone had found something similar on malarkey...

03-05-2003, 01:10 AM
Sobel: What's your name, trooper?
Malarkey: Malarkey, sir!
Sobel: Malarkey. Isn't that slang for bullshit?
Malarkey: Yes, sir!
-- Band of Brothers - Currahee

03-05-2003, 07:22 AM
Thanks fiddlesticks. I didnt read Band of Bros

Great USE of "malarkey" but definitely not the ORIGIN.

03-05-2003, 08:04 AM
My friend Eoghan in Dublin sent me a link which contains several good etyomological explanations including:

The Mullarky clan in County Clare in Ireland were wealthy land owners with typical serf-tenants of the era (mid 1800's). They paid their tenants in "Estate Script" which was paper money that could be spent locally. When the Great Potato Famine hit, the Mullarkys just kept issuing this script even though it rapidly became worthless due to the falling fortunes of the clan. Eventually the script was "just a lot of Mullarky,".... The phrase was carried to the US by the flood of Irish immigrants during the famine. After the famine eased in Ireland, the phrase died out fairly quickly, except in the US.

Here is link to full text: http://www.nwce.com/mullarky.htm

03-06-2003, 12:33 AM
My friend Eoghan in Dublin sent me a link which contains several good etyomological explanations including:

If by "good" you mean "fanciful," I'd agree.

The term perhaps did come from a family name, that much I'll give you. But no one currently knows the source.

One of the greatest things to happen in the world of linguistics and etymology is the scanning of texts of newspapers, journals, etc. in the last few years. It has allowed comprehensive, rapid searches which wouldn't have been possible even 5 years ago. And antedatings of words/phrases are happening all the time. Perhaps an epiphany such as happened with OK and Allan Walker Read may yet be in the cards for "malarkey."

Exapno Mapcase
03-06-2003, 12:22 PM
I was skeptical too of bettybad's explanation, but it may have some merit.

from the OED Online:
1929 J. P. MCEVOY Hollywood Girl vii. 102 It's a wonder you notice me, I told him. That's a lot of malaky, says he.

1930 Variety 29 Oct., The song is ended but the Malarkey lingers on.

1934 Esquire Dec. 49/3 Daughter of Mrs. Sally Alden, father unknown! What malarkey! All hooey, even protected by the official records of a friendly republic.

1938 Down Beat Mar. 5/4 We've got to say to the recording companies..‘Cut out the Mullarkey and give us some down-home stuff!’
That Down Beat spelling is exactly the same as the version her friend gives. And the Variety cite from 1930 is also capitalized, so that a proper name may be a source.

Can't explain McEvoy's spelling, though it's true that terms from verbal slang are notoriously hard to transliterate.

03-06-2003, 01:41 PM
I actually agree, Samclem. I mentioned Reed's "discovery" of the etymology of OK above. I guess until then the "fanciful" will have to suffice.

03-06-2003, 10:21 PM
Exapno There are two previous cites not in OED>

1922, T.A.Dorgan(the cartoonist). "Yes, Milarkey 609 J."
1924, T.A. Dorgan. " Malachy--you said it."

Again, both capitalized, giving more credit to the family name.

Exapno Mapcase
03-07-2003, 12:50 PM
You always have the best sources samclem.