Posted by R. Berg on March 25, 2002
In Reply to: Having a barney posted by TheFallen on March 25, 2002
: To "have a barney" is a phrase commonly used in London at least. For the benefit of US readers, it means to become involved in an argument or fight and has no connection whatsoever with any kind of purple dinosaur. My belief had been that the origins of this phrase are Cockney, but an Irish friend of mine assures me that the phrase is equally as common in Dublin.
: I wonder who Barney was, if anyone? I've certainly heard the modern piece of rhyming slang "barney" used both to denote a double measure of spirits and to describle a game of doubles (usually pool in a bar) - examples: "Here's your scotch. You sure you didn't want a barney?" and "I've got the next pool game - dya fancy playing barneys?". The provenance of this latter is clear - Barney Rubble equalling double. This caused me to wonder briefly whether barney meaning argument also stems from Barney Rubble, meaning "trouble", but I rather imagine that the phrase is in this case older than any Hanna Barbera cartoon.
From Eric Partridge, "Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English":
BARNEY. A jollification, esp. if rowdy; an outing: from late 1850's; obsolete. J. C. Hotten, 'The Slang Dictionary,' 1st ed. ? ex 'Barney,' typical of a noisy Irishman (cf. 'paddy,' anger . . .). --2. ?hence, crowd; low slang or colloquial (--1859). . . . --3. Humbug, cheating: low . Hotten, 3rd ed. This sense may have a different origin: cf. '"come! come! that's Barney Castle!" . . . an expression often uttered when a person is heard making a bad excuse in a still worse cause', recorded in the 'Denham Tracts,' 1846-59, Apperson, whose other two Barney proverbs suggest that the ultimate reference is to 'the holding of Barnard Castle by Sir George Bowes during the Rising of the North in 1569', E. M. Wright, 'Rustic Speech,' 1913. --4. Hence, an unfair sporting event, esp. a boxing match (--1882); ob. --5. 'Eyewash' (1884+). --6. A quarrel; a fight; grafters' (--1934). Philip Allingham. Prob. ex sense 1.