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Buckley's chance

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English

Etymology

Uncertain. Candidates are:

  • William Buckley (1780-1856), a convict who escaped in Victoria in 1803 and lived among the Aborigines there for 30 years (survival in the bush was reckoned no chance).
  • A certain Mr Buckley in the Bombala region of southern New South Wales who sued the government over title to land, the action seeming to have little prospect of success. (Bill Wannan, Australian Folklore, Lansdowne Press, 1970, reprint 1979 ISBN 0-7018-1309-1, entry for "Buckley's Chance", correspondance from a Mr F. Verdich of Rockdale, NSW.)
  • Mars Buckley (again), although not in conjunction with Crumpton Nunn (as mentioned above "Buckley's and none" and by playing on the punn "Buckley's and Nunn"). This incident however relates to a run on the Banks in 1893 and Buckley ensuring that the bank would have no chance of collapsing with Buckley's money. It was the bank that had "Buckleys chance" of getting his money. This seems more likely since the phrase was first cited three years after this incident (see the ANU "Ozwords" article again)
  • One of the most bizarre non sequiturs I have met is that the term derives from the Yindjibarndi verb bucklee, ‘to initiate an Aboriginal boy, especially by circumcision’. Hence The Australian National Dictionary gives the citation, ‘He went to give young Tommy ... the law before he’s circumcised—bucklee’d’ (F.B. Vickers, No Man is Himself (1969), p. 56). It was put to me quite seriously that since an Aboriginal boy reaching the age of initiation had no chance at all of escaping being ‘buckleed’, he had, as it were, ‘Buckley’s chance’.


William Buckley is the traditional candidate, but has the problem that the earliest uses found are from the 1890s, some 30 years after his death. (Reference: Ozwords October 2000 at the Australian National University.)

Noun

Singular
Buckley's chance

Plural
-

Buckley's chance (-)
  1. (Australia, Template loop detected: Template:context 1) A very small chance.

Synonyms

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