Thursday, February 24, 2011


It's a great word, isn't it? It applies to so many situations. Think of the sentence, "Enough of your malarkey". You can substitute 'nonsense' or 'bullshit' or probably half a dozen others, but none of them strikes quite the same tone of playful correction.

So what is malarkey? Where does it come from? Let's find out. I'm going to guess it's Irish, but that's only because I can imagine my Irish-American grandmother using it.


Well, I'm drawing a blank on this one. It seems to have come out of America in the 1920s, at least that's the first it appeared in print. But no one is going to stake a claim on where it comes from. It looks like it might well come from someone's name, but no one seems to know who the nonsense spinning Malarkey might have been. I'm disappointed. It is still such a prevalent word here that I actually heard it used on television as I was typing this, I think by a Republican ridiculing the efforts of Wisconsin protesters.

It's a great word, regardless, and obviously non-partisan.        


  1. Was it 30 Rock that was on in the background?!

  2. No, though it would have been if I hadn't been watching some sort of political news. Why? Did they use the word too?

    It sounds like malarkey was unavoidable.

  3. There is a football coach named Mike Mularkey, and that's no balderdash.

  4. Probably best that his name was not Mike Balderdash.

    I perhaps gave up a bit easily on the origins of the word. As my hero Anatole Liberman says somewhere, just because a word's source is unknown doesn't mean that some guesses aren't more educated than others. And in fact, he weighs in on malarkey.

    Malarkey “nonsense.” Several conjectures about it are on record, some of which are not worthy of mention. Eric Partridge derived malarkey from Modern Greek malakia, defined as “masturbation” and “tricky.” In my opinion, his guess holds out no promise. Other people traced the word to an Irish family name. Irish names have fared badly in English etymology: hooligan, hoodlum, and larrikin (Australian slang for hoodlum) have been given Irish lineage, but no one will be convinced until it can be shown who the first infamous Hooligan, Hoodlum, and “little Larry” were. Peter Tamony, an unrivaled expert in the history of Californian slang and San Francisco street life, traced malarkey to a certain Mullarkey (of San Francisco), the son of Joe Mallorca, a Portuguese. “This son assumed the name Jerry Mullarkey under the delusion he was of Irish descent.” He left his mark as oyster shucker (opener) and great boaster. Malarkey became the pseudonym of Thomas Aloysius Dorgan (TAD), a celebrated cartoonist and sports writer, and indeed a man of Irish descent. According to Tamony, this is how the word malarkey “talk, bunkum, and baloney” came into being (Western Folklore 33, 1974, 158-162).

  5. I am reading Damon Runyon, who has introduced me to the term phonus balonus.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  6. It's really a shame I don't understand Latin...

  7. Seana

    I think I'd parse "larrikin" a little. Of course I didnt know this before I came here, but a larrikin is more a loveable rogue, a rascal, than a hoodlum. You could call someone a larrikin at a wake and no one would mind but hoodlum I think would upset people.

    Shane Warne the cricketer is the prime example of a bogan and a larrikin these days.

  8. If I were a cricket fan, that would add a dimension for me.

    I think malarkey is kind of the same thing--taken another degree, it would be a slur, but as it is, there is a certain fondness in it.

    I see by my blog roll that word man Anatoly Liberman is doing "A Drinking Bout, in five parts. Starting with ale.

  9. RE: 30 Rock. Yep. "Malarkey" features prominently in the Emily Dickinson cat episode.

  10. Thanks, Kathleen. I bet I can still catch this somewhere.

  11. The following site may be of use for other words besides...

  12. Thanks, Maria. I have no doubt that I will resort to it before too awfully long.

    I think all attempts to link it to the Greek must be futile.

  13. I've always loved malarkey. It's right up there with balderdash and poppy-cock.

  14. Malarkey is an Irish surname, my surname, and from what we have been told we acquired the name because my Irish ancestors were con artists making people believe that their land was worth a lot of money during the potato famine.

  15. Well, you are definitely a primary source, then, Allorah.

    I've been told that the Scots-Irish Grahams, my ancestors, were so bad that they sometimes resorted to spelling their names backwards as an alias. Not the smartest move in the book, but I suppose they did not have a lot of options.