"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Saturday, 20 December 2008

His name was mud

If you are told your name is mud you would assume that the origin of the phrase was something to do with soft, wet earth. In practice a second potential origin is claimed by some folk. When John Wilkes Booth shot the President of the United States Abraham Lincoln he broke his leg escaping.

He was treated by Dr Samuel Mudd. Mudd was a Maryland physician and he was later implicated and imprisoned for aiding and conspiring with Booth in the assassination. Hence, it was said of someone who was unpopular or the victim of defamatory charges “His name is Mudd.”

However, 'mud' in the sense of scandalous or defamatory charges goes back much earlier. There was an expression, 'the mud press,' to describe newspapers that besmirched people's reputations by throwing mud, as long ago as 1846. And the phrase itself first appeared in print in 1820, 45 years before Lincoln's assassination.

But the American explanation was fun while it lasted!


  1. Have you recently watched National Treasure 2 by any chance?

  2. No. Don't know the programme or understand the reference!

  3. The mud journalists were also known as "muckrakers" for, well, raking up muck about people. The style was also known as "yellow journalism."

    I think the mention of "National Treasure 2" was in reference to John Wilkes Boothe, whose supposed journal supposedly leads to a supposed treasure after unraveling a supposedly unsolvable treasure hunt, to protect said treasures from omnipresent bad guys, and so on and so forth. (Alas, that movie is utter historical fabrication, and not a very good one at that...)

    In passing, and very unrelated, my favorite spinoff has to be a booth I saw at some fair or other a while back, cheerfully named "John Wilke's Booth."