Where does the word “Ballyhoo” come from and What does Ballyhoo mean?

Several suggestions have appeared as the source of the term “Ballyhoo” for the glib patter of the showman: (a) the village of Ballyhooly, Ireland; (b) a circus blend of ballet and whoop; (c) the cry of dervishes, b’allah hoo, “Through God it is,” at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Dr. Atcheson L. Hench (American Speech, Oct., 1945) suggests that it may have come from the seaman’s term, the ballahou, for a fast-sailing, two-masted vessel, with foremast raked forward, mainmast aft, rigged with high fore-and-aft sails, much used in the West Indies.

The contemptuous term ballyhoo of blazes, used in 1847 by Melville in Omar, in derision of a slovenly vessel, may have been picked up by landlubbers, he thinks.

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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