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Posts Tagged ‘Buncombe’

Bunko

Posted by Admin on November 20, 2021

If you have watched a police drama on television that mentions bunko, they’re referring to the police department that deals with squad which is sometimes also referred to as the fraud squad or the bunko squad.

A bunko man is an individual who practises the bunko swindle (also known as the bunko crime or bunko game) and who isn’t always male. Lots of women have been arrested for being bunko men.

Here’s how the bunko swindle operates: The con man (who is male or female) persuades the victim to trust them, and then swindles the victim out of valuables in his or her possession. The game is always the same even though the game keeps being reinvented with new twists added — or removed — to make the story even more believable to the victim.

So bunko is about hoaxes and misleading people and fraudulent activities.

All of that is interesting but where in the world did the word come from in the first place? To get to that answer, some history behind the word will prove helpful.

First off, bunko can be a shortened form of the word bunkum (and that’s where a lot of word trouble begins). Bunkum was them, and is now, complete and utter nonsense. In other words, talk intended to please the person or persons to whom the talker speaks.

In the early 1900s, fraud committed via this method resulted in a statute that referred to the practice of committing this kind of fraud as bunko steering. In FLEMING v STATE (No. 21,582) at the Supreme Court of Indiana on 24 May 1910, a very clear definition of what constituted bunko steering was included.

However allures, entices or persuades another to any place upon any pretense, and then and there, by fraud or duress, induces or compels such person to lose, advance or loan money, to part with anything of value, or to execute his check, note or other obligation either for money or for anything of value; of whoever, in like manner allures, entices, or persuades another to any place and then and there induces or compels him to part with anything of value by means of any trick, device or artifice, or upon any game or wager, is guilty of bunko-steering, and, on conviction, shall be imprisoned in the state prison not less than two years or more than fourteen years; and all persons present at such place at such time, engaged therein, shall be prosecuted, tried and punished for such offense as principals.

In the 1889 edition of “A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant: Embracing English, American, and Anglo-Indian Slang, Pidgin English, Tiners’ Jargon and Other Irregular Phraseology” compiled by Albert Barrère (1846 – 11 February 1921) and ‎Charles Godfrey Leland (15 August 1824 – 20 March 1903), readers are directed to read the entry for Buncombe or bunkum for an understanding of what bunko or bunk is which only adds to the historical confusion of the word. The definition is:

To talk big, affecting enthusiasm, but always with an underhanded purpose. Mr. Horton has made the discovery that “it arose from a speech made by a North Carolina senator named Buncombe.”

The “Treasures of Science, History and Literature, Instructive, Amusing, Practical for the Study and the Fireside” by American journalist and editor Moses Folsom (4 August 1847 – 11 September 1933) and published in 1878 had an entire section devoted to Swindlers titled, “Curiosities of Swindling: Specimen Swindles” with a complete section devoted to BUNKO (as the heading stated). It informed readers of the following in part:

If the traveler escapes the monte men on the railroad trains, he may next be subjected to the wiles of the bunko men in the city. The bunko men travel in pairs, usually, and the strangers coming from depot, or wandering on the streets, are “spotted” by these rascals.

There was no mention of any politician with this definition which was a nuanced indication that perhaps bunko and bunk were not words with the same origins.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Moses Folsom at one point held the position of secretary of the Florida State Marketing Bureau, and prior to tht he spent two years as the secretary of the Palatka Board of Trade and a year in the office of the state commissioner of agriculture of Tallahassee. Earlier, in 1878, he was appointed Superintendent of the Iowa State Institution for the Deaf and Dumb at Council Bluff during which time he established The Deaf-Mute Hawkeye newspaper which was printed by students in the district.

As Idiomation continued digging, it was learned the senator mentioned by Mr. Horton was Revolutionary Officer and Senator Felix Walker (19 July 1753 – 1828) who was a Congressman whose district in North Carolina included Buncombe County (where Asheville is found). In 1820, he made a lengthy speech made on 25 February during the 16th Congress that led to the passage of the Missouri Compromise. It was so lengthy that several of his colleagues begged him to cease and desist, but he persisted. He even claimed at one point that the people he represented expected as much from him, and that he was “bound to make a speech for Buncombe.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Up until the American Civil War, there was another interesting historical note having to do with Buncombe County that was used by a number of people in and around North Carolina. If something was the biggest or best, it was said it was “the best thing this side of meaning it was biggest or the best until you got to Buncombe County where it would learned that it wasn’t the biggest or the best when compared to what was to be found in Buncombe County.

So people who knew of this expression let others know that Buncombe was a place that was strange in mythical proportions as well as full of hot air ideas. At least that’s what newspaper back in 1843 reported.

A few years later, the word bunkum showed up in the 1828 issue of the Niles Weekly Register stating that a political oratory to please or full a constituency was “cantly called talking to Bunkum.” Shortly afterwards, talking to bunkum or talking for bunkum meant any insincere, empty, or deceptive talk in general.

By 11 November 1843, even the Bucks Herald of Aylesbruy was talking about bunkum when referring to the Libel Act that was before parliament at the time, reporting that “the act was, and ever will be, Bunkum.”

It took until 1893 for the word bunkum to be shortened to bunk, and that was thanks to American humorist, journalist and writer from Chicago Finley Peter (F.P.) Dunne (10 July 1867 – 24 April 1936) who had his Irish character Mr. Dooley (a fictional character who had immigrated to the United States) say the following:

That is th’ real Irish village, for bechune you an’ me, Jawnny, I think th’other one from Donegal is a sort of bunk, I do, an’ I niver liked Donegal anny how.

But bunk and bunko are pretty much the same, right? It would appear the answer to that question is no, and the confusion has to do with the fact that as the words bunkum and bunk were making their way into the lexicon, so was the game bunko which was a gambling game that used eight dice cloth and was imported from England in 1855 to the United States — specifically to San Francisco. Along the way, a few of the original rules were altered by gamblers to benefit gamblers, and relied on swift, empty talk.

What began as an enchanting parlor game that promoted social interactions among family and friends became a way to swindle property owners out of their property and valuables.

By the time the 1920s rolled around, large cities had bunko games going on in nearly every gambling parlor and speakeasy, and the police who broke up those games were known as bunko squads.

So while Buncombe, bunkum, bunk, and bunko may appear at first blush to share the same roots, bunkum and bunk are thanks to Senator Felix Walker in the early 1800s, bunko is thanks to English gamblers arriving in America in the mid-1800s, and all three words — bunkum, bunk, and bunko — have to do with less than savory practices that employ lots of fast and easy talk.

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