I watched the British horror film ‘Ghost Stories’ this weekend (not great – it all felt a bit like it was patting itself on the back at how clever it is – the stage show was better and more scary). It’s about a man who debunks (i.e. exposes as false) ghost stories. Which got me wondering – where does the word ‘debunk’ originate from? And it turns out it has a very interesting backstory (which is lucky – otherwise this really wouldn’t be worth reading).
So, the ‘de’ prefix refers to reversing or undoing something. But it’s the ‘bunk’ bit that’s interesting. You might have already guessed that it comes from ‘bunkum’ meaning ‘nonsense’ (which is really nice to say – go on, give it a go. Bunkum. The louder the better. Assuming you’re not sitting on a train or in a library or anything like that). Bunkum is a phonetic spelling of Buncombe, a county in North Carolina in the US of A. In 1841, one Felix Walker, who was something important which I don’t really understand in the US Congress, started a very long and boring speech. Despite everyone yelling at him to stop talking, he refused because he wanted to show the people of North Carolina that he was doing his job properly: ‘I shall not be speaking to the House,’ he said, ‘but to Buncombe.’ And from that moment on, ‘bunkum’ became slang for ‘a load of rubbish’.
Not the best thing to be remembered for, but still, better than nothing, right? Right?