Mud name shame a dirty tale

Townsville Bulletin - - Inside Today -

Haveyou ever won­dered about the source of some of our won­der­ful ex­pres­sions?

I was chat­ting with some­one the other day about an in­ci­dent and she com­mented: ‘‘ Oh I’ll bet his name is dirt!’’ I did not mean to, but well be­fore my brain was en­gaged, my mouth had moved into gear and I’d cor­rected her. ‘‘ Mud!’’ I said. ‘‘ I beg your par­don,’’ she coun­tered. ‘‘ No, I should beg your par­don. I was be­ing a school marm and cor­rected you – it’s mud!’’

She kindly for­gave me in ex­change for a shar­ing of why it’s so. I thought I might share it with you. In fact, there is not one story but many pos­si­bil­i­ties for the ori­gin of the ex­pres­sion. I’ll leave it to you to choose your favourite.

This ex­pres­sion has been around for a very long time in Eng­land. In the early 1700s the word was used to de­scribe a fool. A short time there­after it was used to de­scribe a mem­ber of par­lia­ment who had lost an elec­tion and dis­graced him­self – he had dirt­ied his rep­u­ta­tion.

My favourite rea­son though may be found in the Morris Dic­tio­nary of Words And Phrases, which tells us the very sorry tale of Doc­tor Sa­muel A. Mudd. This is the man who set the bro­ken leg of John Wilkes Booth.

Booth, as you may re­call, was the man re­spon­si­ble for the as­sas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln. It was sug­gested at the time that the doc­tor was a mem­ber of the as­sas­si­na­tion plot and that he should be pun­ished.

In 19th cen­tury Amer­ica, if you were in trou­ble or associated with those in trou­ble, your name was ‘‘ Mudd’’ which quickly be­came ‘ mud’’. You were caught up in some­thing and you be­came bad by as­so­ci­a­tion.

In fact, the ex­pres­sion was well in use be­fore poor un­for­tu­nate Dr Mudd. Dur­ing the Civil War, the ‘‘ gut­ter press’’ as we may call it was known as the ‘‘ mud press’’ as they were known to ‘‘ throw mud’’ or in­sin­u­a­tions that would blacken the rep­u­ta­tion of the per­son about whom they wrote.

What hap­pened to Dr Mudd? He was im­pris­oned but par­doned and re­leased by Pres­i­dent Andrew John­son in 1869. His con­vic­tion, how­ever, was never over­turned so I guess his name is still Mudd?

Sue-Belinda as a baby. See some of the North’s cutest kids in our Ba­bies of 2010 book­let to be

pub­lished on March 23.

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