“Hullabaloo” means a loud uproar, mixture of noises, din, commotion. Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms (1848) has it as “hellabaloo,” meaning riotous noise and confusion, and says it is provincial in England.

The word originated in the 1700s, though no one knows exactly where it came from.

The word has been spelled in so many ways that “hullabaloo” has to be considered some dictionary’s arbitrary ruling. When it appeared for the first time, in Smollett’s Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves of 1762, it looked quite different. “I would there was a blister on this plaguy tongue of mine for making such a hollo-ballo.”

The Oxford English Dictionary points to the old Scots term “balow” or “baloo,” which appeared in a few early nursery rhymes and which has been used in Scots since the 1700s for a lullaby. But I can’t imagine a hullabaloo sending me off to sleep.

Another theory is that it derives from French. The word hurluberlu exists in French, meaning scatter-brained. This appears to have been first used by Rabelais in the 1500s. However, being scatter-brained doesn’t necessarily mean you’re noisy.

The word “hurly-burly,” meaning boisterous activity, appears in the scene with the three witches at the beginning of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “When the Hurly-burly’s done, \ When the battle’s lost, and won.” This may be a shortened form of “hurling and burling.” “Hurling” is an old term for a commotion, disturbance or tumult. “Burling” is merely a rhyming variation on “hurling,” which has happened in such terms as fiddle-faddle and wishy-washy.

“Hulla” bears a slight resemblance to howl. But that might be far-fetched.

So, have we come to any conclusions? No. After all the hullabaloo, we still don’t know how and where this word was born.

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  One thought on “hullabaloo

  1. how9473
    February 10, 2021 at 7:17 am

    Noisy disturbance here we go! And often for the sheer sake of making a noise to be noticed. It has always had a hint of disapproval or condemnation to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 10, 2021 at 7:21 am

      Yes, I agree about that hint of disapproval, hinting that the hullabaloo is unnecessary.


  2. Leanne Taylor
    February 13, 2021 at 3:26 am


    Liked by 1 person

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