[Ads-l] Antedating mullet (hairstyle)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 15 13:30:26 UTC 2015

Thanks to Ben for posting a link to the OUP podcast about antedating
"mullet" (hairstyle).

The OED has an entry for "mullet-head", noun. The first sense is "A
stupid person" and the first citation is dated 1855.

The OED also has an entry for "mullet-headed", adjective. The first
sense is "Stupid, silly" and the first citation is dated 1853.

These expressions were still in use in the 1970s and 1980s. Hence,
some ambiguity is inescapable when searching for early instances of
mullet (the hairstyle). The description "mullet-headed" might be used
to label a person as dumb or to describe his hairstyle. The OED does
suggest that the pre-existing term "mullet-head" might be the
etymological source of the hairstyle sense for "mullet".

Below is a link to an Imgur image that seems to show a page from a
1991 magazine with the phrase: "Three years ago, Craig Parker was a
mullet-haired teenager who wanted to build a car that could rival the
best. . ."


I think this is the image that was discussed in the podcast.
Apparently, researchers have been unable to verify the magazine image
on paper. The podcast does not mention the reaction of the person who
posted the image to the doubts about its provenance.

Here is a link to a Reddit discussion from 7 months ago. (TIL means
"Today I Learned"):

Short link: http://bit.ly/1Pv5EEO


[Begin excerpt]
That TIL is full of shit and a perfect example of groupthink. It took
me under an hour of browsing through my Street Machine collection to
find this reference to a mullet as a hairstyle from 1991.

[End excerpt]

On Wed, Oct 14, 2015 at 11:03 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Antedating mullet (hairstyle)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I agree with Fred -- looks like Google Books is conflating the 1973
> novel _Cinderella Liberty_ (written by Darryl Ponicsan) with an
> unrelated book of the same title from 2013 (written and self-published
> by Cat Johnson). The "mullet" cite is from the latter, and it has no
> connection to the former beyond the title, as far as I can see.
> For those interested in the hunt for "mullet" antedatings, I recommend
> this installment of the OUP podcast Oxford Comment, where you can hear
> from Katherine Martin and others about the failed quest to antedate
> the Beastie Boys:
> http://blog.oup.com/2015/06/mullet-word-origins/
> On Wed, Oct 14, 2015 at 9:58 PM, Shapiro, Fred wrote:
>> I believe this is a 2013 citation, not a 1973 citation.
>> On Wed, Oct 14, 2015 at 9:30 PM, Peter Morris wrote:
>> >
>> >
>> > OED Appeals
>> >
>> > http://public.oed.com/appeals/mullet/
>> >
>> > << The OED defines mullet as 'A hairstyle, worn esp. by men, in which the
>> > hair is cut short at the front and sides, and left long at the back.' It was
>> > certainly popularized, if not coined, by the hip-hop group the Beastie Boys,
>> > whose song 'Mullet Head' [ from 1994] is the first known use of the term:
>> > (snip)
>> > Can you help find an earlier example of mullet? Or any proof that it truly
>> > was coined by the Beasties? >>
>> >
>> > Comments say that they heard the term in 1970's, but give no written cite.
>> > Well, here's one.
>> >
>> >
>> > From the novel Cinderella Liberty by  Darryl Ponicsan, 1973, chapter 2
>> >
>> > http://tinyurl.com/qadm8z8
>> >
>> > <<Weekly haircuts, no matter what. So it had been since he'd joined. So it
>> > would be until he retired.
>> >
>> > Maybe he'd grow his hairout after that. Probably wouldn't go with the mullet
>> > that had been so popular when he'd joined, but he'd keep it longer than it
>> > was now.>>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list