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Palooka

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Palooka

Postby Dr. Goodword » Mon Jun 10, 2013 10:52 pm

• palooka •


Pronunciation: pê-lu-kê • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A good-hearted but dumb and incompetent professional boxer. 2. Any stupid, clumsy man who is not a bad sort.

Notes: Today's Good Word bears a time stamp that links it to the 30s and 40s, when the comic strip about the slightly goofy prizefighter Joe Palooka appeared in many US newspapers. The word is still around, though, and is still available to refer affectionately to someone who is a little dim but good-hearted. Where do palookas live? Why in Palookaville, of course, just down the road from Podunk.

In Play: Palookas are clumsy and not bright, but you can't hate them: "Maudie should never have taken the poor palooka to the china shop; he must have broken $100 worth before she could get him out." In fact, they tend to be funny, perhaps because the most famous of them, Joe Palooka, was a character in the funny papers: "The big palooka took his glass eye out at the dinner table and rinsed it off in his water glass."

Word History: According to H. L. Mencken in the 1945 supplement to The American Language, today's Good Word was created by Jack Conway, editor of Variety magazine in the 1920s (Michael Quinion in World Wide Words). However, it isn't clear whether Conway created the word or just used a word that was already around. It appeared in the Lincoln, Nebraska newspaper in 1923 for sure and may have come from the Polish name Paluka since many prizefighters of that day were Polish. By the end of the 20s, Ham Fisher's comic strip, Joe Palooka, was in most US newspapers so that most of us associate the word with a comic strip character. In a 1933 Washington Post article, Ham Fisher is quoted as saying he got the idea for the strip after talking to "an especially dumb but good-natured fighter" whose name he did not share. (Our thanks to the very unpalookaly Chris Berry for suggesting this interesting bit of Americana and especially for the quote from the Post.)
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Re: Palooka

Postby David McWethy » Tue Jun 11, 2013 9:55 am

And who shall lead the parade of my many betters who easily--almost with a flip of the wrist--cause a click on Podunk (found in the text of today's GoodWord, Palooka, to activate a link which produces something other than "Sorry, that word was not found."?

Line up against the wall please, and no shoving or ending sentences witha preposition.[quote][/quote]
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Re: Palooka

Postby Perry Lassiter » Tue Jun 11, 2013 11:01 am

Takes more than a flick of the wrist I fear, but in cases like that, i often hit the alphaDictionary.com link at the top and put the word in question into the multiple dictionary that comes up. Since I have a son who lives in the sticks past the boondocks near Podunk, I checked them all out. "Stick(s)" is an interrsting word, btw. That particular Podunk is called Birthright, TX., and it's mostly a store at a crossroads. See what I mean?
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Re: Palooka

Postby LukeJavan8 » Tue Jun 11, 2013 12:22 pm

It figures palooka would be in a Nebraska newspaper. We are
home to many podunks.
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Re: Palooka

Postby Slava » Tue Jun 11, 2013 1:20 pm

Life is like playing chess with chessmen who each have thoughts and feelings and motives of their own.
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Re: Palooka

Postby gailr » Tue Jun 11, 2013 8:30 pm

Perry Lassiter wrote:...Since I have a son who lives in the sticks past the boondocks near Podunk, I checked them all out. "Stick(s)" is an interesting word, btw. ...

We hosted an exchange student from the Middle East; I used the term "boonies" around him once, and immediately reached for a less regional synonym. "Out in the sticks" made him laugh -- it needed no further explanation. His father had grown up on a farm and his mother in a city. He said that when she wanted to tease him she claimed that he went to town (the day they met) just to look at the lights. It seems there are Podunks all over the world, and palookas as well.
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Re: Palooka

Postby Philip Hudson » Fri Jun 14, 2013 11:23 pm

Now I live in the hinterlands, a name I have purloined for my own purposes. I use it more for protection than isolation. I was born in the sticks and my mother's family is even named Hicks, so I come by it naturally.
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Re: Palooka

Postby LukeJavan8 » Sat Jun 15, 2013 12:21 pm

The term "willowwacks" (1 or 2 w's?) comes to mind.
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Re: Palooka

Postby Philip Hudson » Sat Jun 15, 2013 4:57 pm

When I contemplated "willowwacks", absolutely nothing came to mind. Google gave me sources that tell me "willowwacks" (with 3 w's in all) means the same as "the sticks". We have so many colorful names for the boonies. I have an ancestor, through more than one line, whose surname in German was Heite. This comes from the German word that is "heath" in English and means the boonies. It doesn't take much to expand on that to get "heathen", after all what do you expect from people from the sticks. The ancestor changed his name to Hitt at the request of the British government when he became an English citizen before coming to the colonies.
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Re: Palooka

Postby Slava » Sat Jun 15, 2013 5:15 pm

It appears that heathen probably doesn't have anything to do with heath. Here's etymonline's take:
O.E. hæðen "not Christian or Jewish," merged with O.N. heiðinn. Historically assumed to be from Goth. haiþno "gentile, heathen woman," used by Ulfilas in the first translation of the Bible into a Gmc. language (cf. Mark 7:26, for "Greek"); if so it could be a derivative of Goth. haiþi "dwelling on the heath," but this sense is not recorded. It may have been chosen on model of L. paganus (see pagan), or for resemblance to Gk. ethne (see gentile), or may in fact be a borrowing of that word, perhaps via Armenian hethanos. Like other words for exclusively Christian ideas (e.g. church) it would have come first into Gothic, then spread to other Gmc. languages.
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Re: Palooka

Postby Philip Hudson » Sat Jun 15, 2013 5:46 pm

Slava points to an interesting discussion of the origin of the word "heathen". Right now I am holding out for the "heath" origin, but I am open to further consideration. Christians got a word turned on them by the Muslims. Christians are now among the infidel dogs.
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Re: Palooka

Postby LukeJavan8 » Sat Jun 15, 2013 10:56 pm

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Re: Palooka

Postby Slava » Sat Jun 15, 2013 11:28 pm

More on willowwacks. Dictionary.com did it as a word of the day two years ago now, and included examples of usage.
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Re: Palooka

Postby David McWethy » Sun Jun 16, 2013 3:28 am

During the halcyon days of my misspent youth, "Palooka" was an eponym that was generally unknown in my "stompin' grounds" because the local newspaper--unanimously referred to as the "Weekly Wiper"--did not carry that cartoon strip (or any other); to fill the verbivorial vacuum many of the grade-school inmates were disparagingly referred to by the "townies" as "hunyocks" (pronounced hun-yocks).

Due to the geographic size of the area that was under the care, control, and jurisdiction of the Consolidated School District, many students who could walk the few blocks to school were assigned to the same classes as those who had to ride the (un-air-conditioned) school busses; about 60% of the average bus route's length was over dirt-and-rut county "roads".

The to/from bus rides took so many hours a day that by the time some of the "youngsters" were dropped off (as twilight approached, to trudge the trail covering the remaining distance to homes that were so far back in the hills that sunlight had to piped in six months out of every twelve) it was just about time to get ready to head out to meet the bus for the ride back in to the classrooms. The rural families of these educational-system prisoners generally bathed only once a week (on Saturday mornings, in preparations for both the weekly trip into town and the evening that followed, as well as for church the next day), for the tub had to be filled with water "toted up from the sprang" and then heated on the wood cook-stove. Bucket-full by bucket-full. The Friday afternoon/evening bus rides home are still today indelibly memorable.

And because in those days "teaching at the level of the lowest common denominator" was unavoidable (with one teacher for math, one for English, etc.), a tangential consequence was that some of the students had been held back so many times that their armpit foliage was more hirsute than that of their teachers (regarding the "girls"; in the case of the "boys" the comparison standard was chest-hair. Or the number of offspring produced.

There were quite a few other consequences of living in the county seat, with a population of 675 and an 18-page telephone directory with only 50-odd (in every sense) last-names; where the barber-shop quartet was a trio; and there was no possibility that the hamlet would ever have to bear the weight of the derogatory "wide place in the road", as U.S. Highway 62 actually narrowed as it entered the city limits from the south (and, it almost seemed, couldn't leave quickly enough as it flashed by the northern city limits).

And in many ways, with the sharp edges of destitution and intolerance blurred, looking back--through undependably-firing memory synapses--those days of 5-cent (12-ounce, glass bottle) soft drinks; entire stores filled with goods that either cost a nickel or a dime; Henry-Js; frequent evening spats regarding which of the two black-and-white TV programs (that the spindly roof-top antennas could suck in through the thin slices between the hills and spray with decorative "snow" onto the rear-surface of the 12" round screen) would be watched; and playing cards attached to bicycle spokes, to sound like (in youthful imaginations) the throbbing of motorcycle cylinders, often are remembered as being much softer than they probably were experienced at the time.
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Re: Palooka

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sun Jun 16, 2013 3:25 pm

Very nicely done. Would go nicely in a sixth grade reader.
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