missing word: mullet

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Oct 8 12:11:21 UTC 2000

>>Amazon shows at least two "mullet" books.
>I found only one on haircuts--the other's on how to cook the fish, I think.

Oops, that's right. Its title -- "Mulletheads" -- fooled me.

> From the insult mullet-head, apparently (which goes back to the mid
>19th c.).  Probably first was equivalent to 'fish-head', but then
>stupid people stereotyped in terms of haircut, so a 'mullet' is the
>type of haircut a mullet-head has?

Seems plausible, if 'mullethead' in this sense is in current use. It's not
familiar to me. But see below.

>>Somebody claims the expression comes from the use of "mullethead" in the
>>movie "Cool Hand Luke".
>Doubt it.

I do too, after watching the movie (again, after decades). 'Mullethead' is
used in the movie 2-3 times but in a nonspecific context where it could
just as well have been 'muttonhead' -- which is familiar to me and which is
in standard dictionaries. I suppose that whoever claimed the derivation of
the hairdo name from this movie simply remembered 'mullethead' from this
solitary source -- I don't remember it from anywhere else either, although
now I find it in Mark Twain books which I have indeed read (long ago)!
Today, judging from a Web search, 'mullethead' would most usually be
understood as 'someone who has a mullet hairdo'. I presume the existence of
the word in the movie script must indicate that it was conventional and
understandable (= 'idiot') in some American regions/circles in the 1950's
(approximate setting, apparently the US South) or 1960's (book and movie
dates). Anybody here familiar with it from back then? Or even from the
1970's or 1980's? Or at all, without reference to a haircut?

Are there parallels, etymologically? There are a lot of '-head' epithets,
and there are a lot of stupid-looking hairstyles -- is there a hairdo
called a 'mutton' or a 'chowder'? 'Air', 'block', 'bone', 'cabbage',
'chuckle', 'clunk', 'jug', 'lunk', 'meat', 'noodle', 'pumpkin', 'wooden',
...? These types of '-head' are more recognizable than 'mullethead' in my
milieu, and they're in the standard dictionaries. [I suppose other popular
favorites such as 'dick', 'pecker', 'shit', 'f*ck' are excluded from
consideration because (among other reasons) it would be awkward to discuss
one's style with the barber?]

Perhaps 'mullethead' is a conventional epithet within a certain environment
where the 'mullet' became popular? Country-western music circles, perhaps?
Or perhaps 'mullethead' was conventional in Britain circa 1980?

Alternatively, could the word come from some other place where 'mullets'
have been popular? Germany? France?

Reaching a little farther, perhaps, I note that this is a 'hybrid' (short +
long) haircut; could the name be related to 'mule' = 'hybrid'?

Even farther: this would be perceived by some as a 'womanish' look for a
man; is there a possibility of a cognate of Spanish 'mujer', Portuguese
'mulher' = 'woman' or English 'muliebrity' or Middle English 'mulier' =

Finally ...

My personal (very tentative!) suggested etymology derives 'mullet' not from
'mullet-head' but from 'mullet-tail'. Apparently a mullet (fish) has a
distinctive forked tail (noted by anglers), and some early mullet hairdos
may have resembled this tail. There are parallels: ducktail haircut,
rat-tail haircut, and the alternative term 'beaver paddle' for the (fuller)
mullet haircut.

What does the OED say?

-- Doug Wilson

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