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Mud slinging

Posted by ESC on May 01, 2005

In Reply to: Mud slinging posted by Renee on May 01, 2005

: What's the origin of the phrase "mud slinging"?

MUDSLINGING - "wild, unsubstantiated charges; a word, like 'smear,' used to turn an attack back on the attacker. 'Calumniate! Calumniate!' Some of it will always stick,' advised Beaumarchais in 'The Barber of Seville' in 1775. This was based on ancient Latin advice, 'Fortiter calumniari, aliquia adhaerebit,' or 'Throw plenty of dirt and some of it will be sure to stick.' Sometime after the Civil War, 'dirt throwing' picked up some water to become 'mud-throwing,' mud-gunning' and the word that gain pre-eminence, "mud-slinging.' The New York Tribune of April 13, 1876, disagreed with the Latin dictum: 'Mud doesn't stick to Mr. Blaine any better than it does to Bristow. The slander peddlers are having a bad season.'." Safire's New Political Dictionary by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993). Page 471.

Another source says "mud" goes back before the Civil War:

MUDD/MUD -- "his name is mudd/Mudd. A reader of our column, reading of efforts to obtain a belated presidential pardon for Samuel A. Mudd, the doctor who set the broken leg of Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, raises the question of whether the popular expression 'His name is mud' should not actually be 'His name is Mudd,' referring to the fashion in which the doctor's name was blackened. In truth, it has been well established that Dr. Mudd was not a part of the conspiracy to kill Lincoln. That's a most ingenious theory, and it wouldn't surprise us a bit if the story of Dr. Mudd and his claim of ignorance may have been contributed to the popularity of the expression during the nineteenth century. However, 'mud' in the sense of scandalous of defamatory charges goes back to a time well before the Civil War. In fact, there was an expression, 'the mud press,' to describe newspapers that besmirch people's reputations by throwing mud, as long ago as 1846. So it seems most likely that the expression 'His name is mud' was well established before Dr. Mudd met his unhappy fate." From the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris.

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