Where did the expression “in a blue funk” come from and What does it mean?

It would be interesting if, through family records, I could bring an unsuspected source into view which would explain why the expression “in a blue funk” means “in a state of dire panic,” or from another record determine why a stooge for an auctioneer, one who makes fictitious bids to stimulate higher bids, is called a “Peter Funk”; but, alas, no such records are known.

An actual Peter Funk who thus served an auctioneer may have lived, in some part of the United States, but the unusually full record of the American family from 1710 to two has no mention of such an individual.

The English phrase, “in a funk,” was Oxford slang back in the middle of the eighteenth century, and seems to have been borrowed from a Flemish phrase, “in de fonck siin,” which also meant “in a state of panic”; but no one has been able to figure out why the Flemish fonck meant “panic.”

Perhaps some ancestor, for the early American branch spelled the name “Funck” and came from lands bordering the Flemings, may have lived in such panic that his name, slightly misspelled, became a synonym for great fear. No one can say.

“Blue” was inserted into the phrase about a hundred years after the Oxford adoption. The adjective had long been used to mean “extreme,” and its addition merely intensified the state of panic ascribed to the phrase.

Incidentally, the first literary mention of the mythical “Peter Funk” is in the book by Asa Green, The Perils of Pearl Street, published in 1834. The book is a humorous narrative of mercantile life in New York City and, obviously, the author invented the names of most of the characters he describes.

Possibly this name was also invented, though the author says that Peter Funk was a name familiar to generations of merchants.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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