muck-a-muck = bigwig (1883)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Dec 29 20:14:43 UTC 2004

muck-a-muck (OED3 has 1902 for the 'bigwig' sense - contracting the
earlier "high-muck-a-muck", reanalyzed as containing the element "high"):

1883 _(Reno) Daily Nevada State Journal_ 6 May 2/2 They are not satisfied
with the position of Division Superintendent of creation but they want to
be Most Worthy High Grand Muck-a-Muck of the entire ranch or their lives
are gloomy fizzles.
1885 _(Fort Wayne, Indiana) Daily Gazette_ 1 Dec. 6/5 Here I have been
snubbed on the congressional committee to the funeral and now you go and
let Mont Hamilton parade as the big muck-a-muck of my own Jeffersonians.
1894 _Portsmouth (Ohio) Times_ 6 Oct. 3/2 The Hon. James Weaver, chief
muck-a-muck of the colored K. of P.'s ... went to Chillicothe Monday
morning to "do" the races.
1895 _Syracuse (NY) Herald_ 6 Feb. 1/1 (heading) Mayor Strong a
muck-a-muck indeed.
1896 _(Honolulu) Hawaiian Gazette 27 March 7/3 We are the brains, the
muck-a-muck; let unbelievers quake.

The 1883 cite ("High Grand Muck-a-Muck") is perhaps transitional, since it
still has the element "high" ("Grand High Muck-a-Muck" appears elsewhere).

Didn't find any early uses of "mucky-muck" in the 'bigwig' sense, but I
did find the following cite where it seems to mean 'ragtag' or 'riffraff',
suggesting a simple reduplication of English "muck(y)":

1885 _Davenport (Iowa) Daily Gazette_ 21 March 2/4 If such another dive
was not to be erected, it would be a credit to that neighborhood, as the
one just departed was but the rendezvous of toughs and a general
mucky-muck crowd.

--Ben Zimmer

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