From buncombe, from “speaking to (or for) Buncombe County, North Carolina”, a county in North Carolina named for Edward Buncombe. In 1820, Felix Walker, who represented the county in the U.S. House of Representatives, rose to address the question of admitting Missouri as a free or slave state, his first attempt to speak on the subject after nearly a month of solid debate, right before the vote was to be called. To the exasperation of colleagues, he began a long and wearisome speech, explaining that he was speaking not to Congress but "to Buncombe." He was ultimately shouted down by his colleagues, though his speech was published in a Washington paper and his persistence made "buncombe" (later respelled "bunkum") a synonym for meaningless political claptrap and later for any kind of nonsense, at first only in the jargon of Washington and then in common usage (see discussion on talk page).
- (slang, countable) Senseless talk; nonsense; a piece of nonsense.
- Synonyms: see Thesaurus:nonsense
- (District of Columbia) Bombastic political posturing or oratorical display designed only for show or public applause. [1820s]
- debunk – The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language Online, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, accessed 2014-11-28
- ^ Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 16th Congress, 1st Session Pages 1539 & 1540 of 2628
- ^ Missouri Question: Speech of Mr. Walker, of N.C.
- ^ Another version, quoted in the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, 1838-12-15, suggests his colleagues simply left: Our readers have, perhaps, often heard of ‘speaking to Buncombe,’ by which phrase is signified a speech not intended or expected to have any influence on those to whom it is addressed, but designed for the speaker’s constituents. It originated with a representative from North Carolina, who came from the county of Buncombe, and who being asked, one day, why he continued to speak to empty benches, ‘O!’ he replied, ‘I am speaking to Buncombe.’