Wednesday 17 January 2018

WATCH: What is a mugwump? Boris Johnson's bizarre attack on Jeremy Corbyn

Jessica Pitocchi

Did Boris Johnson call Jeremy Corbyn a good thing or a bad thing?

Boris Johnson launched a bizarre linguistic attack on Jeremy Corbyn, warning that voters shouldn’t be lulled into thinking Corbyn was a “mutton-headed old mugwump” who was essentially harmless.

Social media is now ablaze with chatter of what the word actually means and whether it’s a good or bad thing – so here’s a brief rundown of all the things you need to know to make your own mind up:

What’s the history of mugwump?

Mugwump is a native American term for a war leader, which was taken up in the 1880s to describe members of the US Republican party who switched parties to support Democrat presidential candidate Grover Cleveland.

So it’s a compliment?

Well some time afterwards, the meaning did shift and the word was used in the US to describe a political turncoat – someone who shifts allegiance from one ideal or party to another.

So it must be an insult then?

Perhaps not. The term also appeared in the bestselling Harry Potter series, to describe members of the International Confederation of Wizards – of which the character Albus Dumbledore was appointed the Supreme Mugwump (and that’s a pretty big deal).

Anything else we need to know?

Mugwumps featured in the graphic and surrealistic novel Naked Lunch by Beat Generation writer William Burroughs – filmed by David Cronenberg in 1991 – as a bizarre and reptilian alien species. Not exactly a compliment.

Let’s settle this – what does Susie Dent make of it?

According to everyone’s favourite lexical aficionado, it’s not a very flattering thing to be called after all.

And who are we to question Dictionary Corner?

Press Association

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