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#1
Old 02-21-2005, 05:32 PM
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British slang: why is a fight called a "Barney"?

This question must have a factual answer, so I'll post it in GQ. If a mod feels it's more appropriate elsewhere, please feel free to move it.

"Are you having a Barney? I'll hold your coat."

I've heard a fight described as "Barney" several times and have wondered about its origins. Is it rhyming slang? Is it named after a famous fighter?

Curious in FL
#2
Old 02-21-2005, 05:34 PM
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Well, if Don Cheadle in [i]Ocean's 11[i] can be believed, it's rhyming slang.

Barney -> Barney Rubble -> trouble
#3
Old 02-21-2005, 05:35 PM
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Never heard that when I lived in England as a kid but one thing popped into my head - "Barney Rubble" rhymes with "Trouble", shortened to "Barney".

...and quick Google search appears to confirm this: http://cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk...e&method=slang
#4
Old 02-21-2005, 05:37 PM
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Thank you! You folks are quick!

A mod may close this thread now. Thanks again!
#5
Old 02-21-2005, 06:04 PM
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Did the Cockneys really know who Barney Rubble is?
#6
Old 02-21-2005, 06:14 PM
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Gorblimey howsyerfather they do have tellies in Cockneyland.
#7
Old 02-21-2005, 06:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AskNott
Did the Cockneys really know who Barney Rubble is?
I don't know, but The Flintstones was televised here in Australia, and "Barney" is not uncommon here. I actually would have thought it predated the cartoon, but maybe not - it's only used by older Australians, but then again the show ain't exactly young now either.
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#8
Old 02-21-2005, 06:34 PM
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My grandfather (born 1908) used to use it quite frequently, so it obviously pre-dates any rhyming slang references associated with the Flintstones cartoons. He always claimed that it was Irish in origin.
#9
Old 02-21-2005, 06:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cunctator
He always claimed that it was Irish in origin.
That's what I'd always assumed, actually.
#10
Old 02-21-2005, 06:45 PM
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While even Cockneys will be familiar with The Flintstones, the usage in English slang has nothing to do with Barney, Fred, etc.

From Partridge's Dictionary of Historical Slang (1937; Penguin, 1972):


Quote:
barney, bit of. A scuffle, fight or heated argument; esp. rowdyism in a public house: late C.19-20.
More generally, barney has various meanings, clustered around cheating or rowdyness.
#11
Old 02-21-2005, 07:34 PM
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This page seems to back up the Irish theory:

Quote:
: From Eric Partridge, "Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English":
: BARNEY. A jollification, esp. if rowdy; an outing: from late 1850's; obsolete. J. C. Hotten, 'The Slang Dictionary,' 1st ed. ? ex 'Barney,' typical of a noisy Irishman (cf. 'paddy,' anger . . .). --2. ?hence, crowd; low slang or colloquial (--1859). . . . --3. Humbug, cheating: low (1964). Hotten, 3rd ed. This sense may have a different origin: cf. '"come! come! that's Barney Castle!" . . . an expression often uttered when a person is heard making a bad excuse in a still worse cause', recorded in the 'Denham Tracts,' 1846-59, Apperson, whose other two Barney proverbs suggest that the ultimate reference is to 'the holding of Barnard Castle by Sir George Bowes during the Rising of the North in 1569', E. M. Wright, 'Rustic Speech,' 1913. --4. Hence, an unfair sporting event, esp. a boxing match (--1882); ob. --5. 'Eyewash' (1884+). --6. A quarrel; a fight; grafters' (--1934). Philip Allingham. Prob. ex sense 1.
#12
Old 02-21-2005, 07:43 PM
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Though, equally, Partridge's entry on barney can be seen to support a derivation from Barnard Castle, which is hardly Irish.
#13
Old 02-21-2005, 07:50 PM
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No because the Barnard Castle meaning refers to meaning number 3 - "humbug, cheating, low". And it specifically says that this may have a different origin. Barney, in the sense of fight, comes from number 6 which is rooted in number 1 - "typical of a noisy Irishman"
#14
Old 02-21-2005, 07:59 PM
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I'm really not convinced that there's an absolute line between a meaning that implies cheating and one that implies a punchup, either in 19th century Ireland or County Durham in the same period.
#15
Old 02-21-2005, 08:59 PM
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maybe. The Irish source seems strong though. In any case, can I just say that I have absolutely fallen in love with the whole concept of the phrase:

'"come! come! that's Barney Castle!" . . . an expression often uttered when a person is heard making a bad excuse in a still worse cause',

The idea of making a bad excuse in a still worse cause just sounds hilarious to me.
#16
Old 02-22-2005, 05:40 AM
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Is the late 20th century etymology 'Barney Gumble' - 'rumble'?
#17
Old 02-22-2005, 07:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jojo
1st ed. ? ex 'Barney,' typical of a noisy Irishman (cf. 'paddy,' anger . . .).
Although I find this quite hard to believe, living in England I very often hear both "barney" and "paddy" used to describe commotion. And Paddy is definitely used to indicate stereotypical Irishness. Just because I find it hard to believe doesn't make it impossible

Just to throw another (unsubstantiated) idea into the mix, could Barney perhaps come from Blarney - as in "kiss the Blarney Stone"?
#18
Old 02-22-2005, 07:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bras0978
Just to throw another (unsubstantiated) idea into the mix, could Barney perhaps come from Blarney - as in "kiss the Blarney Stone"?
I think I should make it clear what I mean - I'm not trying to say that kissing the Blarney Stone leads to a fight. I mean that it is closely associated with being Irish, which Partridge suggests makes one "rowdy". Just a thought.
#19
Old 02-22-2005, 08:16 AM
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We certainly do use the phrase "to have a paddy" but it doesn't mean a fight - it means to completely lose your rag and act out.

I have no idea where "Barney" comes from - but my dad used to use it and he predated the Flinstones by decades.

Personally I prefer "pagga" or "Donnybrook"
#20
Old 02-22-2005, 09:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AskNott
Did the Cockneys really know who Barney Rubble is?
The Cockneys still exist, you know.
#21
Old 02-22-2005, 09:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AskNott
Did the Cockneys really know who Barney Rubble is?
Well they know who Ruby Murray is - and Todd Sloane, so it's a fair bet they know who Barney Rubble is. The are televisions in London you know - and rationing finished some time ago, so you can get all the jellied eels you can eat (or indeed go for a ruby, you could have a Brittney with it!)
#22
Old 02-23-2005, 12:42 AM
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I knew there were televisions in London, of course. It's just that the UK gets shows we've never heard of, and vice versa. The Flintstones were a stone-age ripoff of The Honeymooners, which may have lost something in translation. Fred and Barney were voice-over artists doing Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, twenty years later.
#23
Old 02-23-2005, 01:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by acsenray
The Cockneys still exist, you know.
Even though the Bow Bells don't? Blasphemy!

The term 'donnybrook' comes from the name of a suburb of Dublin known for its violent yearly fairs.
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#24
Old 02-23-2005, 04:11 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by owlstretchingtime
The are televisions in London you know
Of course, to a cockney it's pronounced "Laaaahndon".
#25
Old 02-23-2005, 06:26 AM
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I always thought it was a reference to the conflict between Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:36-40)
#26
Old 03-05-2016, 11:30 AM
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Possible source in to cockney

The Lithuanian word Barnis, plural Barniai, which would be pronounced barney, means quarrel. There would have been Lithianian immigrants into East London at the end of the 19tb century, many Jewish, but not all.
#27
Old 03-05-2016, 11:43 AM
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I can find no confirmation; indeed most reputable sources say the origin is unknown, but I alway assumed that it was a corruption of Barnet Fair, which is an annual horse and pleasure fair held in Barnet, England, on the first Monday in September. This fair, which began in 1588 could be pretty rowdy. So Barnet - Barney would not be hard.

Barnet Fair (reduced by hemiteleia to barnet) is better known as the origin of Cockney rhyming slang for hair.
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