pa·​loo·​ka | \ pə-ˈlü-kə How to pronounce palooka (audio) \

Definition of palooka

1 : an inexperienced or incompetent boxer
2 : oaf, lout

Keep scrolling for more

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, "Essential movies of the 1970s from 'Jaws' to 'Being There'," 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,, "The Philadelphia 76ers' courtship of LeBron James -- Bill Livingston (photos)," 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, "“Fist Fight”: Feuding high school teachers trade low blows and sophomoric jabs," 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,, "'Chuck' movie review: Boxing drama tells the story of 'the real Rocky'," 17 May 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'palooka.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of palooka

1920, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for palooka

origin unknown

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about palooka

Listen to Our Podcast about palooka

Dictionary Entries near palooka






palo santo


Statistics for palooka

Last Updated

7 Aug 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for palooka

The first known use of palooka was in 1920

See more words from the same year

More from Merriam-Webster on palooka

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with palooka

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for palooka

Comments on palooka

What made you want to look up palooka? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


concealment of treason or felony

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

The Exceptions Quiz III

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!