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Possibly from the Polish surname Paluka, or a variant of Polack.[1]

Used in the US since the 1920s, originally primarily of boxers. Popularized by Jack Conway of Variety,[2][3] who also popularized baloney and bimbo. Further popularized by Ham Fisher in his comic strip Joe Palooka, about a boxer (published in newspapers since 1930, particularly popular in 1940s).[4]


palooka (plural palookas)

  1. (US slang) A stupid, oafish or clumsy person.
  2. (US, boxing, bridge and similar ventures) Someone incompetent or untalented in the specified area.
    • 1923, Lincoln Star, Nebraska, March 1923:
      But [Jack] Dempsey against some palooka who had been press agented into greatness and into the form of a Dempsey menace — that would pack any outdoor arena.

Derived terms[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Palooka”, World Wide Words, Michael Quinion
  2. ^ Esquire, September 1936
  3. ^ H. L. Mencken, 1945 supplement to The American Language, reviewed in Books: Alphabet Soup, TIME, Monday, Aug. 27, 1945
  4. ^ Cassell’s Dictionary Of Slang. Jonathon Green. Cassel & Co., 1998. →ISBN