What's the meaning of the phrase 'Hurly-burly'?
A hurly-burly is a commotion, tumult, strife, uproar, turmoil.
What's the origin of the phrase 'Hurly-burly'?
Hurly-burly is one of the older reduplicated phrases in English. As it dates from a time at which English spelling wasn't standardised it has, over time, been used with numerous different spellings:
- Whorlle bourlle - Middle English
- Hurley burley, howrley burlei, horl(e)y borl(e)y, hurly burle, hurlei burley, whorle borle, whourliburly - 1500s
- Hurli(e) burli(e), -ly(e), -ley - 1500s-1600s
The phrase hurling-burling also dates from the Middle English period. It seems likely that this and hurly-burly are effectively the same phrase - they certainly mean the same thing - 'strife' or 'commotion'.
Both hurling and hurly derive from the verb hurl, that is, to throw with vigour.
In common with many reduplicated phrases these two expressions begin with a word with a known meaning and add a second rhyming word, which has no especial meaning, for emphasis.
Early examples of these phrases, both in Middle English, are a circa 1533 translation of the story of King Arthur, Arthur of Brytayn:
Than the archbysshop answered hym agayne right sharplye, and so there began muche hurlynge and burlynge in the courte.
And, the first usage that I know of that uses our current hurly-burly spelling is in Erasmus' text The Despisyng of the Worlde, 1532:
My mynde is to withdrawe the from the hurly burly and busynesse of the worlde.
Hurling is the name of a ball game, previously played in Cornwall and still commonly played in Ireland. If you want a visual demonstration of what a hurly-burly looks like you could do worse than watch a game of hurling.