Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search
See also: Barney



Etymology 1[edit]

Etymology unknown. Often incorrectly thought to be Cockney rhyming slang from "Barney Rubble" ( "trouble", from the character Barney Rubble on The Flintstones), it actually dates back to the 19th century and its origin is unknown.


barney (plural barneys)

  1. (obsolete, Britain, slang) A lark, a romp, some fun.
  2. (obsolete, Britain, slang) A hoax, a humbug, something that is not genuine, a rigged or unfair sporting contest.
    • 1865, Brierley, Benjamin, Irkdale[1], volume 2, page 19:
      "Just keep it i' thy mind," entreated the other, as a sort of parting remembrance, "ut I won thee i' fair powell—one toss an' no barney. [] "
    • 1882 September 2, Evening News, column 6, page 1:
      Blackguardly barneys called boxing competitions.
    • 1884 April 13, The Referee, column 4, page 7:
      Who would believe that Mr. Gladstone shammed being ill, and that Sir Andrew Clark issued false bulletins, and that the whole thing was a barney from beginning to end.
  3. (obsolete, Harvard University slang) A poor recitation. [c. 1810]
  4. (Britain, Australia, slang) A noisy argument.
    • 2007, Brooks, Dave, For Nil Consideration[2], page 230:
      Gary and Mum went mental, and Gary phoned them up and had a right Barney with them.
    • 2009, Conway, Neville, An Ornament to His Profession[3], page 45:
      ‘They had a right barney,’ Dexter said with glee, between mouthfuls. ‘Bloke wouldn′t go. Said he′d write to his MP.’
    • 2010, White, Michael, The Art of Murder[4], unnumbered page:
      [] I bet there was a right barney over her wearing a dress that exposed the rose tattoo!’ Turner concluded with a laugh.
  5. (Britain, Australia, slang) A minor physical fight.
    • 1982, Edwards, Ruth Dudley, Corridors of Death[5], page 157:
      I got stuck in the middle of a real barney between a couple of tough coppers and a handful of hairy protesters, and I didn't enjoy it one single bit.
    • 2010, Flynn, Katie, The Liverpool Rose[6], page 200:
      But he doesn't seem to be so — so angry all the time, and it's ages since he and Aunt Annie had a real barney, with flying fists and screechings, that sort of thing.
    • 2011, Harrod-Eagles, Cynthia, Killing Time[7]:
      ‘I heard this crash, like the door was being kicked in, and then a load of shoutin′ an′ crashin′ about, like someone was havin' a real barney.’
  6. (US dialect, Boston) A student at Harvard University.


barney (comparative more barney, superlative most barney)

  1. (obsolete, Britain, slang) insane crazy, loony.


barney (third-person singular simple present barneys, present participle barneying, simple past and past participle barneyed)

  1. (obsolete, Harvard University slang) To recite badly; to fail. [c. 1810]
    • 1947, Adams, Samuel Hopkins, Banner by the Wayside:
      What avails it to make a shine in Greek if the next hour one does a barney in calculus.
  2. (Britain, Australia) To argue, to quarrel.


  • Hall, Benjamin Homer (1851) A Collection of College Words and Customs[8], page 15
  • Albert Barrère and Charles G[odfrey] Leland, compilers and editors (1889–1890) , “barney”, in A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant [], volume I (A–K), Edinburgh: [] The Ballantyne Press, OCLC 882571771, pages 81–82
  • Farmer, John Stephen (1890) Slang and Its Analogues[9], volume 1, page 129

Etymology 2[edit]

From the character Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show.


barney (plural barneys)

  1. (US, pejorative slang) A police officer, usually one perceived as inferior or overzealous.
    • 2005, “Scott Peterson's sister speaks out”, in (Please provide the title of the work)[10], MSNBC, March 3, 2005: “Foo”