There are words that belong in our lexicon, but for which we have no specific information about their origin. They just appear, get repeated over and over, and…the next thing you know…they become a natural part of the vocabulary we employ on a day-t0-day basis.
Such is the case for the word malarkey.
It is a word that came into existence in the 1930’s, according to some dictionaries. Nobody really knows the origin of the word. And, no, there is no famous person named Malarkey for whom the word is a known reference point. My suspicion is that it is part of the anti-Irish slang that was common in that part of our less-than-noble history. Malarkey sounds like an Irish name to me.
My speculation is that someplace along the line some boozer took a verbal shot at his Irish-American drinking partner who was known to exaggerate the truth when he had downed a few pints of the brew. Mind you, that’s just a speculation. It might make for an interesting piece of fiction, though. Hmmmm.
The term became famous in the 2012 Presidential Campaign when Vice-President Joe Biden was running for office against Republican Representative Paul Ryan. At one point in the October 11 debate the VP took issue with Representative Ryan and said the now-famous words, “With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey.” The respect issue is debatable, but the meaning of the term is not. He was saying that what Ryan was spouting as “the truth” was really a bunch of bologna. (I’m being kind.) The Vice-President is known to shoot from the hip at times, not waiting to check the veracity of his statements, so he may, or may not, have been correct in his assessment of Mr. Ryan’s message. It didn’t matter. The folksy nature of the comment was memorable, and it played a role in his participation in the debate.
And that’s the nature of the term, malarkey. It is a folksy term, more often reserved to stand-up comedy routines, dialogue in movies, and home-spun conversations among friends. It emerged out of an era when public crude language was not as acceptable as it seems to be today. In today’s language the idiom would be much more colorful and distasteful. I’m sure Joe Biden had to restrain himself on national television to use the more genteel word. In a whisper to the President on another occasion, it was clear that his knowledge of saltier language is intact.
Malarkey is a great word which deserves its place in American English. Again, as I have said about other tasty words, it shouldn’t be used too frequently or it will lose its flavor.
Photo Credit: Summer Ballentine