Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Aug 13 01:20:09 UTC 2012

In 1900 a collection of short stories was published under the title
"Sandburrs". The copyright notices suggested that the stories were
written or published in 1898 and 1899. The term "mut" was used
extensively in this book and it seemed to refer to someone who was
foolish or who was acting stupidly, i.e., a muttonhead. (That is my
interpretation and others may disagree.)

Cite: 1900, Sandburrs by Alfred Henry Lewis, [Copyright 1898, 1899 by
The Verdict Publishing Company.] [Copyright 1900 by Frederick A,
Stokes Company.] [Preface date: November 15 1899, New York] Quotes
from mulitiple pages, Frederick A, Stokes Company, New York. (Google
Books full view)

Heavy dialect was used. The preface stated the following:

[Begin excerpt]
The Bowery dialect - if it be a dialect - employed in sundry of these
sketches is not an exalted literature. The stories told are true,
however; so much may they have defence.
[End excerpt]

Here are several excerpts containing "mut":

[Begin excerpt]
"This sucker is pretty soon himself, see! He ain't such a mut as we
figgers. His train starts at 1 o clock, an' he takes in d' bank on his
way to d' station.
[End excerpt]

[Begin excerpt]
Over she spins to grab another glimpse, see! When she strikes d'
summer kitchen she comes near to throwin' a faint. D' pile of rubbidge
is twenty times as big!

"That settles it! d' joint is ha'nted! an' wit' that notion all
tangled up in her frizzes d' old mut makes a straight wake for d'
[End excerpt]

[Begin excerpt]
"W'at th' 'ell!' I says to meself; 'I've been on a dead one from
d'start. This stiff is a bigger mut than I be.'
[End excerpt]

[Begin excerpt]
"At last d'little laundry goil makes d'brace of her life. She's so
bashful an' timid she can't live; but she's dead stuck on seein' her
Billy before he sails away, an'it gives her nerve. As I says, she
takes me Rag's steer an' skins out for d' Cap'tal.

"An' what do youse t'ink? D' old mut who's Sec'tary won't chin wit'
her. Toins her down cold, he does; gives her d'grand rinky-dink
wit'out so much as findin' out what's her racket at all.
[End excerpt]

The theory that "mut" was derived from "muttonhead" was in circulation
by 1910. I will give cites in a separate post (if this is new

Typos are likely. Please double check. Thanks.

On Sun, Aug 12, 2012 at 2:51 PM, Douglas G. Wilson <douglas at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Mutt
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> See my 2004 post --
> -- for my general thoughts which I think are similar to JL's.
> Here is one more item from 1900 (excuse me if it's been quoted before):
> ----------
> _New York Times_, '30 Oct. 1900': from Web archive, I don't see a page no.:
> <<"I t'ought dey was all me fren's," he said to the police, "but when I
> got in ter Mike's dese mutts dey tries to swoipe me dough. ....">>
> ----------
> As for why "mutt" has tended to be applied specifically to mongrel dogs,
> here is an item of possible tangential interest from Australia from 1927
> (from NLA archive):
> ----------
> _Western Mail_, Perth, W. A., 15 Dec. 1927: p. 44:
> <<Wild Dogs. / As regards vermin proof fences it is unfortunate that
> these are essential and some action should be taken by the Government to
> eradicate wild dogs on Crown lands. / This paper recently published
> photos of dogs at a kennel show and remarked that these were the sort of
> animals that gave the pastoralist bad dreams. The complete control of
> the dog question is a point that should be aimed at for, while granting
> the splendid characteristics of the canine race, if the opportunity be
> given, any dog from a wolf-hound downwards (we may except the Pekinese
> and his kind) will turn into a mutton hound. The country north of
> Yilgarn is a veritable breeding ground for wild dogs and the broken
> country between the settled parts and Mt. Churchman is the home of
> innumerable half bred dogs. The extended terms on which netting is now
> available should bring a vermin-proof fence within the reach of every
> settler who is otherwise in a position to carry sheep.>>
> ----------
> As for whether there is any evidence at all that "muttonhead" was
> shortened to "mutt", I don't know of any. Similarly, I have no evidence
> for "mutton dog/hound/lover" being shortened to "mutt". One can generate
> other speculations (e.g., at some times in some places the consumption
> of mutton was considered low-class and so derogatory "mutton eater" or
> so might have existed and might have been shortened). These speculations
> are fun and provide hypotheses to be checked against the available
> historical record.
> The 1898 citation which I presented in my 2004 post had "mut" referring
> to a poor newspaper boy. One can compare "tyke", which apparently meant
> "low-class dog", later "low-class person" and "[unfortunate] child".
> Perhaps the same progression occurred with "mutt" -- but only "perhaps",
> since so far evidence seems to be lacking!
> -- Doug Wilson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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