Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Aug 12 05:28:18 UTC 2012

In a recent "Way with Words" entry --

-- Martha Barnette presents the etymology of "mutt", derived from
"muttonhead" without equivocation. Of course this story has been
encountered before, but is it verifiable ... or even likely?

I noted on this list a few years ago that the HDAS expressed
reservations about this derivation, and I presented my own alternative
story (labeled "speculative"), based on "mutton dog"/"mutton hound" =
"sheep-killing dog".


I do not think my story is necessarily true, but I can't see any reason
to uncritically accept the superficially implausible "muttonhead" story
if there is another contender.

Quick review of available archives doesn't change my (mere lower-case)

I see in Wright's EDD a citation in which a man addresses his dog as
"muttonhead", and perhaps this was enough for a tentative etymology 100
years ago. Under the same headword "mutton" however I see "mutton,
mutton" used as a scolding phrase for a dog,"prob. in allusion to the
offence of sheep-worrying".

Any new thoughts by JL or others?

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

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