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[Q] From Ana Alfaro in Panama: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have come across the term palooka as in Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthey are a couple of palookasÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and in Palookaville. Could you explain what it means?Ã¢â‚¬?
[A] The word has two main senses.
One refers to an unsuccessful boxer, especially one who is both large and stupid, the other to any large and stupid or clumsy person, an oaf or lout.
Many older people first came across the word as the name of the boxer in Ham FisherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s famous comic strip. This first appeared in 1928; it featured the eponymous Joe Palooka as a slow-witted and inarticulate boxer, even though Ã¢â‚¬Å“his heart was pure and his ideals highÃ¢â‚¬?. But Ham Fisher didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t invent the word: it had been around for several years as a slang term and is first recorded in print in 1925. The boxing associations seem to have been particularly strong, to judge from the magazine The Ring, which in November 1926 glossed the word to mean Ã¢â‚¬Å“A tenth rater, a boxer without ability, a nobodyÃ¢â‚¬? and which implied it had been known for some time.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s often said that palooka was the invention of Jack Conway, a former baseball player who became the editor of Variety magazine; he is credited by some with creating a whole group of slang terms that include pushover and baloney. Whether he actually invented palooka, or popularised it, we have no way of knowing, nor do we have any idea what it was based on.
Some of Joe PalookaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s adventures were made into films, and Palookaville came to be a slang term for a hick town full of gentle losers.