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Posted in: Blog, Words, WOW by Sally Evans-Darby on 21 July 2012

Word of the Week

This week’s Word of the Week is ballyhoo (n.): extravagant publicity or fuss; also (v.): to praise or publicise extravagantly.

I came across this word in the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (NODWE). There’s something rather alluring about the word – not for its aestheticism or lyricism, but for its wit. It sounds like a nonsense word, to describe a particular brand of nonsense or monkey business: what a load of ballyhoo, you mentally hear someone saying; will you stop that ballyhooing around?

But in fact ‘ballyhoo’ is not to do with nonsense; rather it describes the particular sort of hyperbolic hype we’re all too familiar with in today’s culture of over-promotion and flag-waving. Look at this! says ‘ballyhoo’ insistently. You might use it to describe, for instance, the furore surrounding the London Olympics, or the way some people go a bit strange when you mention a new Twilight film.

It appears that the origin of this word is, figuratively, up in the air. A Google search throws up a few tentative suggestions, while the OED simply states it is of ‘uncertain origin’ – though offers c.19th century as a possible birth date.

Have you used this word lately? Where did you last hear it? Is it a word that’s still in use? Please leave your comments below.