Here's what "banjax" means -


ruin, incapacitate, or break.
He banjaxed his knee in the sixth game of the season.

Basic research showed that it comes from the 1930s -

1930s: originally Anglo-Irish, of unknown origin.

(From Lexico)

Merriam Webster gives a more specific "first known use" - 1939. However, it says:

Banjax: history and etymology:
origin unknown

And Etymonline doesn't have an entry for "banjax".

No results were found for banjax

Therefore, I would like to know more about the history and etymology of "banjax".

  • 2
    The OED says: "Etymology unknown; perhaps originally Dublin slang." banjax, v. Anglo-Irish slang. transitive. To batter or destroy (a person or thing); to ruin; to confound, stymie. Banjaxed‚ the past participle adjective, is also represented there. Great word -- sounds like what it does. Feb 11, 2020 at 19:07
  • 1
    As the name of a racehorse owned by one Sweeney, 'Banjax' shows up in print before the turn of the 19th (1899). In the 22 September 1909 Dublin Daily Express, this appears: "In the case of a Nationalist claim when the witness entered the box the Unionist agent said that this was a complete 'banjax' (laughter)."
    – JEL
    Feb 12, 2020 at 8:08
  • 1
    I thought it was an electric banjo.
    – Jim
    Feb 12, 2020 at 18:40
  • 2
    A Dictionary of Hiberno-English: The Irish Use of English (edited by Terence Patrick Dolan) mentions two origins from two different sources: 1. "poss. combination of bang and smash" (Chambers) 2. Corkese for public lavatory for females (Irish Times)
    – ermanen
    Feb 12, 2020 at 22:00

2 Answers 2


According to GDoS it dates back to mid-1920s as a possible euphemism for ballocks meaning mess:

[semi-euph. for ballocks (3)]

(Irish) a complete mess.

  • 1925 [Ire] S. O’Casey Juno and the Paycock Act III: I’m tellin’ you the scholar, Bentham, made a banjax o’ the Will.

Ballocks (3)

a mess.

  • 1880 N.Y. Supreme Court Appeal Book 149: Do you know how you came to make that mistake on that memorandum [...] how Mr. Washington E. Hall explained to you how he made it when he said to you, ‘Oh, you made a bollix of it’ [...]?

It so often happens that colloquialisms enter the language unannounced, gaining currency in the spoken word well before they ever appear in print. Unfortunately, in the eras that came before voice recording, print is often the only record we have. I went into Google Books and found a few examples of usage, but nothing that points to origins.

Some examples from that link:

For two streets Johno kept complaining to the driver that it was a nice banjax if a fellow ... (Sean O'Faolian, A Nest of Simple Folk, 1934)


The lady smiled at him and flicked through her mental social files till she came to the Banjax dossier and looked under " Interests." (Ireland Today, 1937)

What is meant by "the Banjax dossier" is unclear, but it possibly refers to an imaginary collection of screw-ups (AmE) or cock-ups (BrE).

The earliest apparent occurrences in print seem to be from the 1930s, supporting your assertion, which suggests that the word was in common (Irish) parlance for some years before surfacing in that form. It's too bad that the Google Books result doesn't even include complete sentences, and that there is no preview available for any of the results.

  • 1
    See also the Wiktionary entry, where they've dug up an earlier quote from 1922. Feb 12, 2020 at 4:21
  • 3
    There appear to be two other references to a certain "Count Banjax" in the Ireland ToDay story, so I'd infer that the 'Banjax dossier' is the dossier on the eponymous count, not necessarily directly to do with the slang meaning. It doesn't seem to be unheard of as a surname. Feb 12, 2020 at 11:18

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