"publicity, hype," 1908, from circus slang, "a short sample of a sideshow" used to lure customers (1901), which is of unknown origin. The word seems to have been in use in various colloquial senses in the 1890s. To catch ballyhoo is attested from 1895 in sense "be in trouble." There is a village of Ballyhooly in County Cork, Ireland, (the Bally- is a common Irish place-name element meaning "a town, village") but no evident sense connection. In nautical lingo, ballahou or ballahoo (1867, perhaps 1836) was a sailor's contemptuous word for any vessel they disliked (from Spanish balahu "schooner"). As a verb from 1901 (implied in ballyhooer).
updated on March 30, 2017