Mutt and -head

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Aug 12 18:46:04 UTC 2012

At 8/12/2012 08:53 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>Has anyone done a digital newspaper search?  maybe the solution can now be

Searching for "mutt" (or "mut") in EAN or 19th-C American Newspapers
will turn up googleplexes of "must", "most", etc.  And vice versa:
Googleplexing Books will also turn up a ...  What it might be
combined with to refine a search I cannot imagine.

Perhaps "Jeff"?  GBooks gives us an 1827 date for a Mutt and Jeff
scenario from Life, but I'm skeptical.  However, Wikipedia tells me
"Mutt and Jeff" dates from 1907, a mere half-dozen years after the
OED's first sightings of "mutt".  And "Augustus Mutt is a tall,
dimwitted racetrack character - a fanatic horse-race gambler who is
motivated by greed."  The OED's sense 1.a. is "A racehorse, esp. a
slow one; any horse in poor condition."  I call attention to the
"dimwitted", which does have a tinge of association with
"muttonhead", the deprecated origin of "mutt" (pace Doug Wilson, in
2004).  FWIW -- perhaps merely a peek into the mind of Bud Fisher.

For "muttonhead", which is dated by the June 2003 OED to 1803, EAN
has a couple of early but not antedating instances:

1811 Dec. 25, The Tickler, Philadelphia:  An essay titled "Plymouth
Goat.  No. 1."  "Elick, for so the Plymouth Goat is called, has saw
fifty winters; his corpulency of body and majestic air prove him
(Buffon to the contrary notwithstanding) a descendant of the true
Irish Mountain Goat; his love of money is surprising ... [etc. in a
similar, presumably humorous or perhaps politically satirical vein]."
Signed "Greiger Muttonhead, Junr. Morristown, Montgomery County,
November 26, 1811.  [If you remember, Buffon deprecated the
degenerate animal life of the New World, where the climate was not
favorable to growth.]

1812 Feb. 19, Satirist, Boston.  "To Readers and Correspondents.  We
have received from Plutarch, a biographical sketch of Ephriam
Muttonhead, esq the editor of a semi-weekly journal in this state.
But as that gentleman has already acknowled [sic] himself to be a
'Fool and Knave' in his own paper, we presume a further illustration
of his character is unnecessary.  / The able and eloquent address of
the celebrated patriot and statesman, (on the opposite page) [which I
have not researched] ...".

1829 Oct. 16, Salem (Mass.) Gazette.  Poem "The Husbandman's Song",
"Written for the Anniversary of the Merrimack (N.H.) Agricultural
Society ... and sung at the Dinner table at Hopkinton, October 8,
1829."  "Thus calf-head and mutton-head, of the prime sort, / Are
good on the table, but poor stuff in Court."  [I express no opinion
on whether this is a straight-forward agricultural paean or has a
disguised political message.

"Mutton-head" as a dinner dish is not in the OED, whereas "sheep's head" is.


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