Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
May 11th, 2016
Episode 521 of 823 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 11, 2016 is: palooka \puh-LOO-kuh\ noun 1 : an inexperienced or incompetent boxer 2 : oaf, lout Examples: "The boxing audiences loved him…. Though often reckless, Mickey was never a palooka and learned from every opponent he faced." — Tom Fox, Hidden History of the Irish of New Jersey, 2011 "In the second debate, he expected to face a bunch of exhausted patsies and dazed palookas, but instead faced able, bright and thoughtful candidates…." — The Washington Times, 18 Sept. 2015 Did you know? The origin of palooka is unknown, though various theories have been put forth. (Some sources credit the baseball player and sportswriter Jack Conway with the coinage, for example.) Palooka first appeared in print in 1920 and may have been popularized by a comic strip titled "Joe Palooka" (by Ham Fisher), which debuted in newspapers a decade later. The probable connection between Fisher's comic and palooka only adds to the mystery surrounding this term, however. Joe Palooka was a boxer who was neither incompetent nor clumsy and oafish, and yet the word palooka came to have those negative meanings. In addition, palooka has been used as a general synonym for rookie and also as a term describing horses with very little chance of winning.