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Buncombe

by Ronnie W. Faulkner, 2006

The word "Buncombe" has, along with its variations of "bunk" and "bunkum," entered American slang as a term synonymous with meaningless speech. The popular term for pretentious and nonsensical talk originated with Felix Walker, a U.S. congressman (1817-23) who represented a region in western North Carolina that included Buncombe County. Walker gave a high-sounding speech on a militia pension bill to a nearly empty congressional chamber. Afterward, when questioned about his reasons for the verbiage, he reportedly stated that he was "speaking . . . to Buncombe." This elicited the response: "And buncombe your talk certainly was." Thereafter the term was used to refer to insincere political speech but was later expanded to include any trivial and overblown application of language.

References:

John P. Arthur, Western North Carolina: A History, 1730-1913 (1914).

Richard Walser, The North Carolina Miscellany (1962).

Additional Resources:

Rawson, Hugh. "Why Do We Say...? Bunk." American Heritage 57. Issue 5. October 2006. http://www.americanheritage.com/content/why-do-we-say-18 (November 1, 2012).

"Felix Walker." North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program. http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?ct=ddl&sp=search&k=Markers&sv=P-26 (November 1, 2012).

Graham, Nicholas. "February 1820 - Bunkum." This Month in North Carolina History (blog). February 2004. http://www.lib.unc.edu/ncc/ref/nchistory/feb2004/feb.html (November 1, 2012).

"WALKER, Felix, (1753 - 1828)" Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=W000050 (November 1, 2012).

Walker, Felix. 1907. Memoirs of a Southern congressman ranging the Southern borderlands with Daniel Boone encounters with the Cherokees in command of the light dragoons electioneering in American politics a hundred years ago ; on the floor of Congress during the Monroe administration ; autobiography. New Haven, Conn: s.n. http://robertson-ancestry.com/1265-02.htm (November 1, 2012).

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875.
Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 16th Congress, 1st Session. Pages 1539 & 1540 http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llac&fileName=036/llac036.db&recNum=131

"Missouri Question -- SPEECH of MR. WALKER, OF N.C." City of Washington [D.C.] Gazette. 05-11-1820; Volume V; Issue: 759; Page: [2]. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Missouri_Question:_Speech_of_Mr._Walker,_of_N.C. (November 1, 2012).
 

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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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