Trend Watch

Joe Biden Loves the Word 'Malarkey'

The Vice President uses this word a lot


Malarkey rose to the top of our look-ups on the evening of July 27th, 2016, after Vice-President Joseph Biden used the word in a speech at the Democratic National Convention.

“He is trying to tell us he cares about the middle class. Give me a break. That is a bunch of malarkey.”
—Joe Biden, quoted on Politico.com, 27 July 2016

malarkey

'Malarkey' means "insincere or foolish talk; bunkum." Though there are a number of theories as to the word's origins, no one is positive where it comes from.

We've commented on Biden’s use of this word before. Yet last night’s speech appeared to draw more attention to the word than had earlier speeches of the Vice President; Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate wrote that it was “the most electrifying use of the word malarkey in history,” and Ben Guarino at the Washington Post began his article by writing “If Joe Biden had a catchphrase, 'a bunch of malarkey' might well be it."

Biden does indeed appear to have an affinity for this word, with dozens of recorded uses over the course of his time in the public eye, stretching back to at least 1983.

But Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D., Del.), an opponent of Reagan's proposed changes on the commission, attacked Hatch's assertions as "unadulterated malarkey.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 Jul., 1983

"Don't buy all this malarkey that we're (the Dukakis campaign) in so much trouble," Biden told the crowd.
—Bill Miller, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 Oct., 1988

"You'll hear, 'This liberal President did this liberal thing, got sucked in,'" Mr. Biden told the gallery of rainy-day visitors. "Malarkey!" he countered in his straw man mini-debate, clearly bracing for two rugged days of holding the rhetorical fort.
—Francis X. Clines, The New York Times, 24 Apr. 1997

In addition to newspaper reports of Biden using malarkey, there is a considerable body of citational evidence demonstrating his use of the word in Congressional and Senate hearings:

Good, because absent that, the rest of this is malarkey, guys. You know it and I know it. Stop playing your intellectual games.
Hearing before the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, 22 Mar., 2000

I know a little about this stuff. He knows a lot of about this stuff. The audience doesn't know what we're talking about, but you all know and we know. Just so you know that we know. It's one those kinds of things where it would be helpful if we cut through a lot of the malarkey.
Hearing before the Subcommittee of Crime and Drugs, 22 May 2002

I think that is malarkey. That is not legitimate.
Oversight Hearing on Counterterrorism, 6 June 2002

No one is certain where malarkey comes from, although a number of possible etymologies (such as it having descended from a Greek word, an Irish surname, or various forms of slang) have been proposed. Although the linguistic origins of malarkey are shrouded in doubt, we are fairly certain of its geographic roots: all of our initial evidence for this word comes from North America in the early 1920s.

Indeed the challenger has been so unimpressive in public that a coterie of volunteer pallbearers has made a practice of attending all workouts at the dog track and laughing immoderately at every move the Latin makes. They seem to think he is a lot of ‘malarkey,’ as it were.
New Castle News (New Castle, PA), 8 Sept., 1923

Some attempt has been made to account for the defeat of the United States hockey team by the Canadians in the Olympic games by declaring that the result was the fruit of team work rather than individual brilliancy. This is so much malarkey, according to the best informed sources.
The Evening Review (Liverpool, OH), 12 Feb., 1924

It remains to be seen whether malarkey will rise again in the wake of Biden's single-handed campaign to repopularize the word. In the meantime, for those who can't get enough malarkey, our list of synonyms (applesauce, baloney, flapdoodle, nerts, trumpery, folderol, horsefeathers....) is long and well worth reading.

Trend Watch tracks popular lookups to see what people are talking about. You can always see all Trend Watch articles here.



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