An American-English alteration of bologna (sausage), boloney, or baloney, denotes a large smoked sausage made of seasoned mixed meats, from the name of Bologna, a city in northern Italy, where these sausages were first made. Figuratively, boloney, baloney, means humbug and nonsense—cf. also it’s baloney, no matter how thin you slice it and blarney.
The earliest instance of baloney in the sense of bologna that I have found is from the fictional dialogue between Jonathan Q. Smith and Governor Dennison that the East Saginaw Courier (East Saginaw, Michigan) published on 11th July 1861:
“You’d better have a hole borde in the top of your hed and a baloney sassig stuck in, that you may have sum branes,” sed Smith.
The following dialogue, published in The Butte Daily Miner (Butte, Montana) on 10th October 1889, illustrates the phonetic proximity between bologna and boloney:
In Chilly October.
O’Riordan—How are yes, Boloney?
Maloney—Don’t be after callin’ me Bologna. Do yes take me for a Dootch sahsidge?
O’Riordan—Excuse me, Bike. It’s the divil’s own cold I have.
The earliest figurative use of boloney that I have found is in the sense of wrestler; it is from The Port Huron Times-Herald (Port Huron, Michigan) of 2nd November 1921:
Now that New York has cut up wrestling so that mat artists must really wrestle instead of putting on fake tortures to make the other boloney pound the mat, Chicago promoters are suggesting a change in their own system.
The word was also used in the sense of boxer; on 28th January 1922, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York, N.Y.) published chapter 3 of Kid Roberts American Champion, a boxing story by the American author Harry Charles Witwer (1890-1929), in which the matchmaker for a local club makes the following offer to Kid Roberts’s manager:
“I’ll slip you 200 berries for ten frames with Special Delivery Kelly, provided that big boloney of yours stays the limit. If Kelly stops him before the fifth round, which is no doubt what’ll happen, you don’t get a nickel!”
The earliest instance of boloney in its current figurative sense that I have found, from The Evening World (New York, N.Y.) of 23rd January 1922, associates it explicitly with bologna:
Promising Oasis Yields Only a ‘Lot of Boloney’
But Stranger Was Certain He Saw Delicatessen Customer Buy Hooch.
Proprietors of delicatessen shops were notified to-day by the police that the law compelling them to close after 7 o’clock Sunday nights would be strictly enforced: that the law applied equally to the sale of booze and bologna.
Last night a man stood opposite a delicatessen shop in Eighth Avenue and observed a stranger enter the place and carefully close the door behind him. In the soft light of the shop the man across the street observed the proprietor put his finger on his lips and the other nod his head. Shortly after the stranger was handed a package, the cash register clanged and the stranger, bowing low, made his exit.
The observing man hurried across the street, opened and closed the door and stepped up to the proprietor with his finger on his lips, looked carefully around, while the proprietor divided his glances between the intruder, the cash register and the telephone.
“Give me a pint,” said the visitor.
“Pint of what?” demanded the mystified proprietor.
“Same as you gave that fellow that just went out.”
“Oh,” said the shop owner. “Why, he only got half a pound of bologna.”
But the thirsty invader wouldn’t believe that he hadn’t stumbled by chance on a “speak easy,” and it took the greatest amount of persuasion on the part of the proprietor to convince him. Finally, his face a picture of melancholy and his head bent low, he shuffled out, muttering something about “a lot of boloney.”