Wednesday, September 26, 2012

That Old Chesnut: Debunking

Do you guys watch ghost hunting shows? I do! I watch them! I watch all of them! They look for "scientific" evidence of the paranormal. Other shows I enjoy look for evidence that this evidence is fake! Like Syfy's Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files (currently airing) or NatGeo's superb series Is It Real? (2005-2007) which I have been watching the fuck out of on Netflix Instant. There's a lot of debunking going on on these shows. But where did the word "debunk" originate? I will tell you because that is what this old Chesnut does in That Old Chesnut! And the etymology is way more nerdy-fun and fascinating than I even expected.

1. First thing's first: "debunk" was coined by American writer(/sometime banker) William E. Woodward in his 1923 satire of the American business world, Bunk. Debunking involves taking out the nonsense, disabusing people of false notions, and knocking the undeserving off of their pedestals. In short, taking the "bunk" out of things. But WHAT IS BUNK, you guys? And where did this term come from?

2. "Bunk" is a shortening of "bunkum" (humbug, nonsense). But did you know that this word is just a phonetic spelling of "buncombe," which has explicitly political connotations? No, you did not know that.

This term has nothing to do with the popular military strategy of sabotaging the enemy's bunk beds so they will all collapse on each other in the middle of the night.*
3. During the 16th United States Congress (obvs), debate raged over the "Missouri Question" which turned into the Missouri Compromise (How'd that agreement work out for you guys, eh?). Right before they were FINALLY going to call some kind of vote in the House, Rep. Felix Walker of Buncombe County, North Carolina decided now would be a good time to give a speech regarding Buncombe and the whole Missouri situation. And he would not SHUT UP. Everybody was like, "This is not adding substantively to our political discourse!" and "Enough about Buncombe, bro!" And then "buncombe" became a synonym for meaningless political talk; claptrap,** if you will (you will).

4. Example: Ann Romney claims she and Oven Mitt were "poor" when they first got married because they lived in a basement apartment and ate lots of tuna fish (ew). But turns out this is BUNKUM, meant to make the Romneys appeal to not-billionaire voters. Gross canned fishy-fish predilections aside, clearly their "struggles" were a little bit fake because of the Romney family investments that allowed them to not even have part-time jobs during college. This Atlantic Wire piece clearly DEBUNKS these bald attempts at pretending not to be the richiest richie riches ever.

And now you know.

*I just made this strategy up. Here's another one our armed forces should totally use, for freedom.
**Also, "claptrap" comes from olde-timey stage performers' and speakers' crass attempts to trick or "trap" their audience into applause. Cool, eh?

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