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Maybe Not!

Posted by ESC on May 24, 2000

In Reply to: Maybe Not! posted by Bruce Kahl on May 23, 2000

: I think Doctor Mudd's name is certainly no more than an interesting coincidence, for it cannot have been the source of the phrase. "Mud" had already been in use for more than 200 years, since at least 1708, as a slang term for a fool. According to Christine Ammer, in her book "Have A Nice Day -- No Problem!" (a very fine dictionary of cliches published by Plume), "mud" was commonly applied in the 19th century British Parliament to any member who lost an election or otherwise disgraced himself.

From the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris:
"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."