pa·​loo·​ka pə-ˈlü-kə How to pronounce palooka (audio)
: an inexperienced or incompetent boxer
: oaf, lout

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The Mysterious Origin of Palooka

The origin of palooka is unknown, though various theories have been put forth. (Some sources credit the baseball player and sportswriter Jack Conway with the coinage, for example.) Palooka first appeared in print in 1920 and may have been popularized by a comic strip titled "Joe Palooka" (by Ham Fisher), which debuted in newspapers a decade later. The probable connection between Fisher's comic and palooka only adds to the mystery surrounding this term, however. Joe Palooka was a boxer who was neither incompetent nor clumsy and oafish, and yet the word palooka came to have those negative meanings. In addition, palooka has been used as a general synonym for rookie and also as a term describing horses with very little chance of winning.

Examples of palooka in a Sentence

I wish he wouldn't bring over here that bunch of palookas he calls his friends.
Recent Examples on the Web Sylvester Stallone's underdog tale about a struggling palooka given one shot at the heavyweight championship is a stirring sports movie with a level of charm and sweetness that dissipated in the rounds (and rounds) of sequels that followed. Brian Lowry, CNN, 25 July 2019 All this real guts and glory in Philadelphia, yet one of the big tourist attractions is to run up the Art Museum steps the way a palooka named Rocky Balboa did on the silver screen. Bill Livingston,, 1 Jan. 2018 The jokes (by screenwriters Van Robichaux and Evan Susser) have all the wit of a punch-drunk palooka. Michael O'Sullivan, The Denver Post, 17 Feb. 2017 Without it, director Phillipe Falardeau's film would be a fairly unremarkable, fairly familiar ride, telling the tale of a big-hearted but undisciplined palooka whose biggest hurdle in life is his own bad judgment. Mike Scott,, 17 May 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'palooka.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


origin unknown

First Known Use

1920, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of palooka was in 1920


Dictionary Entries Near palooka

Cite this Entry

“Palooka.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Mar. 2024.

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