Area Info / The Meaning of Buncombe

What's in a Name? The Secret Meaning of Buncombe

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Buncombe County has a lot to be proud of; surrounded by stunning mountains, it is home to the cultural epicenter of Asheville, and has long history from pioneers to billionaires. The county of Buncombe was named for the captured American Revolutionary Edward Buncombe, but the most common use of the word Buncombe isn't so heroic. Bunk, as in balderdash, claptrap, hogwash, poppycock and drivel, has become the most-often uttered etymological derivative to sully the good name of Buncombe County. The evolution of Buncombe into Bunk can be traced back to the 16th Congress of the United States on February 25, 1820.

Remembering back to High School lessons, most would recall that during that time of Congress, the Missouri Compromise, a measure regarding abolition and the recognition of Missouri as a state, was being hotly contested. Accordingly, members of the House of Representatives had been debating the Compromise at some length when an immediate vote was called on the issue. It was then that North Carolina Representative Felix Walker rose to address the House. His colleagues, knowing Walker's reputation for prolonged and irrelevant oratory, pleaded with him to cut it short -- at which point Walker infamously confessed, “I shall not be speaking to the House, but to Buncombe”. It was remarked that his pointless speech "was buncombe," the saying stuck, and soon "buncombe" became synonymous with vacuous, irrelevant speech. As the new meaning of buncombe grew in use, its phonetic spelling "bunkum" was adopted and eventually shortened to the now familiar word "bunk."

Of course, versions of this story do vary slightly. Some claim that Representative Walker stated he was “bound to do some talkin' for Buncombe,” or that he “must make a speech for the Buncombe papers.” Although the basic facts seem to stay the same, perhaps it's best to keep in mind American Entrepreneur Henry Ford's famous remark, “History is more or less bunk.”