In a word: ballyhoo

December 09, 2013|By John McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word: 


Living as we do in a culture of promotion, self-promotion, exaggeration, and sensationalism, it is good that we have a fine old American word, both noun and verb, to apply to the phenomenon. Ballyhoo (pronounced BAL-ee-hoo) is ever so much more colorful and evocative than hype, the clipped, gray, featureless word more commonly in use today. 

The etymological origins are obscure and the subject of much fanciful speculation,* but the various authorities agree that ballyhoo emerged in the United States around 1900, perhaps as the spiel of carnival barkers trying to draw customers to a performance. It may have been circus slang for an invitation to a sideshow. 

So, as a noun, ballyhoo started out as a name for attention-getting talk. Gaining momentum, it came to represent exaggerated, flamboyant, or sensational publicity, and ultimately empty talk. Label it as you find it. 

Example: From Archaeology, September/October 2003: "Yet for all the ballyhoo, hosannas, and lucrative negotiations, the journey of the James Ossuary to Toronto was ill-starred."

*There is a Ballyhoo in County Cork ... 

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