Really, the whole thing is baloney

Baloney - a word associated more with improbable ideals rather than Italian sausages.
Baloney - a word associated more with improbable ideals rather than Italian sausages.

QUICK quiz: What does the word baloney have to do with sausages?

Time's up.

If you don't like using Americanisms, have you ever used the word baloney?

Time's up again.

I am a member of a group that has an Italian exchange student, a delightful teenager whose presence encouraged the group to hold an Italian night, accompanied by a whole stack of so-called facts about Italy.

That prompted a comment about sausages and the retort "baloney".

I'm fairly sure William Shakespeare never used the word. The chances are he did not know it existed, even though he is credited with inventing a few words in his time.

I don't know if Bill ever ate sausages either.

I admit my ignorance about Italy, although I was in Pisa once when the temperature was so hot - 45 degrees - and people were so desperate to find shade that the tower in the middle of the town threatened to topple over.

I'm not sure that I have ever visited Bologna, but people tell me the local sausages are good.

Now, you can believe the following story if you wish. I don't guarantee its accuracy, because some people say it is all, well, baloney.

But most people who say they know about these things will tell you that Bologna became famous for its large sausages that fitted neatly between two slices of bread.

I gather that the sausages we are talking about might have been made of a mixture of meats and spices - tasting nothing like the quality sausage we might buy these days from the butcher down the road.

The mixture of meats and spices in these sausages was probably responsible for the association with mixed thoughts, or nonsense.

For some reason that I can't explain, Americans must have had trouble pronouncing Bologna but they wanted to tell the world about the sausages.

The first reference I could find came in 1928 in the Saturday Evening Post when a person explaining the difference between a golf ball and a divot used the exclamation "boloney" (note the spelling).

Obviously, he had to be a golfer. My divots are much bigger than golf balls and I don't need to explain the difference, even though one book on golf that I read recently explained where "a good divot" should be found in relation to the ball.

Anyway, the name baloney stuck as a word meaning nonsense. Ernest Weekley commenting about words in1935 said, "boloney must surely be from the Bologna sausage, influenced perhaps by the contemptuous sense associated with the German wurst".

Jonathon Green, commenting on sausages, says baloney or boloney was generally accepted as referring to a Bologna sausage.

John Ayto suggests the word is generally accepted as coming from a colloquial pronunciation of the sausage bologna.

A Catholic bishop is said to have commented that baloney was praise laid so thickly that it could not possibly be true.

Everybody I consulted agreed that the word was a mispronunciation of bologna. I worry at times they were all reading the one book and so came to the same conclusion.

All, however, agreed the first use was seen in the United States and some conjecture remained about what the word was supposed to mean when it entered our language.

I suggest the only way we would know is if we got in touch with that person in the Saturday Evening Post of November 28, 1928, and asked why he or she wrote the word in the first place.

Why couldn't they have said humbug, or malarkey, poppycock, or, for that matter, salami?