[Ads-l] "mug shot" (1935)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 5 01:20:27 UTC 2023

The OED3 entry for "mug" dates the meaning "a photograph or other likeness
of a person's face, esp. in police or other official records" (def 1c) to
1887. The phrase "mug shot" with the same meaning is dated to 1950, but
here are a couple of antedatings from 1935.

Waco (Tex.) News-Tribune, Oct. 3, 1935, p. 10, col. 2
"City Now Has Its Own Plant for 'Mug' Shots"
The Waco police department now has its own film developing plant, for
finishing pictures of prisoners who are "mugged" by Lieut. Sam Fuller of
the police identification bureau.
San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 12, 1935, p. 17, col. 2 [Genealogybank]
Henry Sutherland, "Previewed During the Week by Hollywood Appraiser"
[Description of the film "The Case of the Missing Man"]
Yearning to become an arty photographer, Roger gives up working for the
gazettes and sets up a fancy shop. He's reduced at length to snapping "mug
shots" of passers-by at two bits a copy, the payoff coming when his
abandoned news nose quivers accurately and one of his pictures traps a
dangerous criminal.

There are numerous examples of "mug shot" from 1936 and later, but in the
pre-1935 results that I've seen, "shot" can be interpreted as a past
participle, as in "get/have your mug shot" (with "mug" construed as OED3
def 1c).


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

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