[Ads-l] on the origins of the (muttly [not in OED]) English language

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 19 06:29:00 UTC 2015


"This dog's all mutt and mongrel doctor . . . ."

Evening star (DC) December 31, 1898, Page 17,

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1898-12-31/ed-1/seq-17/#date1=1836&sort=date&date2=1922&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&index=1&words=mongrel+mutt&proxdistance=10&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=mutt+mongrel&phrasetext=&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1

________________________________
From: Douglas G. Wilson<mailto:douglas at NB.NET>
Sent: ‎11/‎18/‎2015 22:04
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU<mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Subject: Re: on the origins of the (muttly [not in OED]) English language

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Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
Subject:      Re: on the origins of the (muttly [not in OED]) English language
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On 11/18/2015 11:44 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: on the origins of the (muttly [not in OED]) English language
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
>> On Nov 18, 2015, at 11:18 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
>> =20
>> On Wed, Nov 18, 2015 at 7:59 PM, Laurence Horn =
> <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
>> wrote:
>> =20
>>> "mutt" is a truncation of "mutton-head(ed)".  Who knew?
>>> =20
>> =20
>> Even in the meaning of "dog of random ancestry"? Were such dogs =
> considered
>> to be
>> "mutton-headed" in some sense no longer obvious?
> Seems like "mutton-head(ed)" was well established through the 19th c. =
> with the sense 'a dull or stupid person' (I guess there's a kind of =
> "silly sheep" connection) before truncating to "mutt" as a derogatory =
> designation for horses ('A racehorse, esp. a slow one; any horse in poor =
> condition', first cite in 1899), dogs ('A dog, esp. a mongrel', first =
> cite 1900), and humans ('A person who is awkward, ignorant, or =
> blundering; an incompetent, a fool', also first cite 1900).  1899-1900 =
> was obviously the Year(s) of the Mutt, across species.
--

I for one am not convinced that "mutt" (referring to a dog) <
"muttonhead". I don't think there is evidence of this development; I
think it's just somebody's guess.

In 2012 I made some remarks on this list. The first "mutt" (actually,
spelled "mut") known to me is dated 1892 and refers to a boy ... not an
idiot or whatever, but a poor boy. One might speculate a development
parallel to that of "tyke": "inferior or mongrel dog" > "low-class or
pathetic child".

Anyway, if "mutt" meant "dog" before it meant "child" (I don't know of
any record of this, but I think it likely), an alternative truncation
might be considered, < "mutton dog/hound" (attested as early as 1881)
("mutton dog" = "sheep-eating dog", thus a natural derogatory term for a
dog IMHO). This is just my speculation, at least as good (I think) as
the "muttonhead" speculation and just as poorly supported by evidence
(AFAIK).

-- Doug Wilson

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