Now, the VOA Special English program, Words and Their Stories.
Baloney is a kind of sausage that many Americans eat often. The word also has
another meaning in English. It is used to describe something – usually
something someone says – that is false or wrong or foolish.
Baloney sausage comes from the name of the Italian city, Bologna. The city is
famous for its sausage, a mixture of smoked, spiced meat from cows and pigs.
But, boloney sausage does not taste the same as beef or pork alone.
Some language experts think this different taste is responsible for the birth
of the expression baloney. Baloney is an idea or statement that
is nothing like the truth…in the same way that baloney sausage tastes nothing
like the meat that is used to make it.
Baloney is a word often used by politicians to describe the ideas of their
The expression has been used for years. Fifty years ago, a former governor of
New York state, Alfred Smith, criticized some claims by President Franklin
Roosevelt about the successes of the Roosevelt administration. Smith said, “No
matter how thin you slice it, it is still baloney.”
A similar word has
almost the same meaning as baloney. It even sounds almost the same. The word is
blarney. It began in Ireland about sixteen hundred.
The lord of Blarney castle, near Cork, agreed to surrender the castle to
British troops. But he kept making excuses for postponing the surrender. And, he
made them sound like very good excuses, “this is just more of the same
The Irish castle now is famous for its Blarney stone. Kissing the stone is
thought to give a person special powers of speech. One who has kissed the
Blarney stone, so the story goes, can speak words of praise so smoothly and
sweetly that you believe them, even when you know they are false.
A former Roman Catholic bishop of New York City, Fulton Sheen, once
explained, “Baloney is praise so thick it cannot be true. And blarney is praise
so thin we like it.”
Another expression is pulling the wool over someone’s eyes.
It means to make someone believe something that is not true. The expression goes
back to the days when men wore false hair, or wigs, similar to those worn by
judges today in British courts.
The word wool is a popular joking word for hair. If you
pulled a man’s wig over his eyes, he could not see what was happening. Today,
when you pull the wool over someone’s eyes, he cannot see the truth.
This VOA Special English program, Words and Their Stories, was written by
Marilyn Christiano. I’m Warren Scheer.