Some immediate jottings on a word for today (the 27th April 2017).
We all know that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson PC MP is fond of a fecund phrase.
Who can forget such classics as “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it” and “Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3”.
Today, displaying the early symptoms of a feverish election, Boris deliberately dropped a dirty needle into the media haystack, dubbing Jeremy Corbyn a ‘mutton-headed old mugwump’.
Eh? D’you what? At first reading, the instant and easy presumption is that Bojo is mocking the Labour party leader as an idiot (or something else equally derisory).
Sorry. Oops. My bad.
Apparently, now that he is in the Foreign Office, Boris and/or his advisors disapprove of the epithet Bojo. Too clownish for a dignified officer of the state perhaps. Fair enough, Bojo the Clown is no more. Gone, like the dodo. Bojo the dodo. Of the FO. Hey ho. It’s fun to play with words.
Back to the ‘mutton-headed old mugwump’. It has a great ring to it but does actually it mean what the flaxen-headed one would wish us to understand?
Well, no. Not really.
‘Mutton-headed’, yes. In the unambiguous and barely shining rhetoric of today’s political elite it means stupid. Simple as. It is little more than an unpleasant and unnecessary name-calling; playground politics. Your choice of politician is a wrong-headed, pig-headed, birdbrained, boneheaded, bovine, thickheaded, dunderheaded fathead. And so on. Yah boo sucks!
‘Old’ is perfectly accurate in context but by nuance it is dismissive of experience and in practice it is tantamount to ageism. Bojo the dodo looks ridiculously old to young voters but now there’s a faint whiff of Eton bully in the air.
So, over half way through the phrase of the day, and what have we got? An ignorant insult and an example of intolerant discrimination – but don’t worry because it all sounds jolly jolly clever and such fun. Time now then for that word which is rattling the cages today: mugwump.
Oh and look away now if you deplore Americanisms, even when applied derogatorily or with humor… Although the ‘mutton-headed old mugwump’-coiner handed back his US passport in 2015 he obviously retains his love for the American tongue.
Mugwump seems to have been adopted from an Algonquian, First Nation American word meaning ‘war leader’ or ‘great chief’.
The primary definition in the OED is of ‘an important person, a leader, a boss’.
Then, in the 1880s mugwump gets some political edge when it is used of Republicans who refused to support the Republican party nominee for US president. Sitting on the fence, with their mugs on one side and wumps on the other.
From there mugwump evolves into someone who is independent and aloof from party politics.
The most modern (and still mainly American) sense is ‘a person who remains non-committal, an independent, or self-important person’.
Aloof from party politics? Non-committal? Self-important? With recent political history in mind mugwump sounds much more Bojo than Jezza to me.
Do the words matter?
It depends how you respond to the words – are you a stupid, aging mugwump? – and that will be coloured by your political tolerance. And whether by expression or intention we are taking a diversion through the looking glass just yet. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
Of course, Boris is a good egg who has Humpty Dumpty’s way with words – &, by the way, doesn’t mugwump sound like it’s been coined by Lewis Carroll.
Or, more Slytherin in tone, it could be the work of J. K. Rowling. ‘Oi! Corbyn, you muggle.’
For my part, all in all, I would prefer politicians to argue their corners with words and language that speak clearly to promises and ambitions rather than name-calling,
However, and by the by, if name-calling is your preferred form of political debate, then I am happy to tell you that Boris is a name of Turkish origin. It means means short. Johnson is a slang word for a penis. There you go. Short prick. Much better than Bojo.