Green’s Dictionary of Slang

barney n.1

[? the holding of dubious sporting events, e.g. bare-knuckle boxing, in or behind the barn, and thus a fig. use of barney n.2 . However, Partridge, quoting Apperson, refers to the phr. come, come, that’s Barney Castle, a response to anyone making a particularly specious excuse. This in turn, it is claimed, refers to the Catholic earls’ Northern Rising of 1569, when Barnard Castle was held by Sir George Bowes who refused, despite many challenges, to leave his fortifications and engage in battle. The ‘Rising in the North’ certainly created the Durham dial. Barnard Castle, a coward, taken from the jibe ‘A coward, a coward, o’ Barney castle/Dare na come out to fight a battle’]

1. (also Mr Barney) humbug, cheating, fraud, esp. of a ‘fixed’ sporting event.

[UK]Bell’s Life in London 8 Oct. 4/5: Martin knew [...] that he could not win the fight fairly; hence he had recrourse to any and every dodge to bring it to a ‘barney’.
[UK]Bell’s Life in London 24 May 7/1: It certainly seemed strange that he should have run past the mile-stone [...] and the general opinion was that it was a ‘barney,’ but of this there is no positive proof.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Victoria (Melbourne) 25 July 3/4: Some people hintod their belief that ‘Mr. Barney’ had been at work, but this we do not for a moment believe.
Durham Chron. 2 July 7/6: [of a wrestling match] Every struggle was earnestly and honestly contended for, not the slightest symptoms of a ‘Barney’ was observable.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 71: BARNEY [...] a deception, a ‘cross.’.
[UK]B. Brierley Irkdale II 19: I won thee i’ fair powell— one toss an’ no barney.
[US]N.Y. Tribune 10 Oct. 3/3: The most remarkable feat of the season was boosting Old Dominion without readjusting the raise, but then that was a ‘barney,’ but it went.
[Aus]Coburg Leader (Vic.) 11 May 4/4: There will be no more barneys at cricket when Brady is present. What say chaps.
Marshall Pomes 115: The morning the Derby was run for, the barney was well understood, Old Feet gave the jockey the cough drop, which I’d fated for the animal’s good [F&H].
[UK]Marvel 15 Nov. 3: Come, come, none of your barney!
[UK]Sporting Times 11 Apr. 1/5: When the youth was in his prime he deemed it good one day to have a ‘barney’. The bookie, concurring, took the odds; the sprinter—changed his mind and romped in!
[UK]E. Pugh City Of The World 259: ’Alf o’ them there gilt-edged barneys as you read about in the newspapers – the big bank scoops that talk in five or six figures o’ speech.
[UK]J.B. Booth Sporting Times 273: Once upon a time there was a youth who [...] deemed it good one day to have a ‘barney’.

2. (UK Und.) in specific use of sense 1, a fake fight, arranged by criminals to distract a potential victim’s attention.

[US]Matsell Vocabulum 125: barney. A fight that is sold.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 6: Barney, [...] a prize-fight that is sold.
[UK]A. Binstead Pitcher in Paradise 131: I don’t think I’ve lost anything, but — well, for a mere barney, they did go a bit, didn’t they?
[US]Spokane Press (WA) 28 July 2/1: We doubt the attempted assassination of the procurator of the holy synod was a ‘barney’.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 308: Course it was a bloody barney. [...] Swindled them all.
[US]A.J. Liebling Back Where I Came From 136: [The fight] looked like a barney – as if there were some collusion .

3. (US campus) a bad recitation.

[US]B.H. Hall College Words (rev. edn) 15: barney. At Harvard College, about the year 1810, this word was used to designate a bad recitation.

4. (US) a hoax.

[UK]Referee 13 Apr. 7/4: Who would believe that Mr. Gladstone shammed being ill, and that Sir Andrew Clark issued false bulletins, and that the whole thing was a barney from beginning to end [F&H].

5. a tease.

[UK]E. Pugh Spoilers 88: It’s a bit of a barney about her.
[UK]J. Franklyn Cockney 285: He may get ‘narky’ if he does not cotton on [...] that the others are having a barney.

In compounds

cross barney (n.)

(Aus. gambling) money used by the promoter of a game of three-card monte n. (1)

[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 13 Apr. 1/3: [A]nyone verdant enough to put up his brass to say he could spot the little Jack and hope to get paid while there was a ‘bustle’ or ‘cross barney’ left in the bag.

In phrases

do the barney (v.)

to counterfeit madness.

[UK]Cheshire Obs. 18 Nov. 7/5: He was doubtless ‘doing the barney,’ pretending to be mad.