• mumpsimus •
Pronunciation: mêmp-sê-mês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Adjective
Meaning: 1. A stubborn, old-fashioned person who obstinately clings to traditional notions and ways despite evidence that they are wrong or harmful. 2. A traditional notion that is obstinately held even though it is unreasonable.
Notes: I know what you are thinking: this must be the medical term for an extremely bad case of mumps. Not at all; the similarity is pure happenchance. Today's is another word that results from a speech error, a mispronunciation which, because of the peculiarity of its circumstances, stuck in the language (see History). It is a lexical orphan, like so many of our language's lexical eccentricities.
In Play: A mumpsimus is a curmudgeon firmly stuck in the muds of time: "Andy Bellam is an incorrigible mumpsimus who still types on his old Smith-Corona mechanical typewriter." Keep in mind that a mumpsimus may also be the out-dated notion that a mumpsimus clings to: "Andy still holds firmly to the old mumpsimus that a woman's place is in the kitchen." A mumpsimus smellfungus would be someone who finds fault in everything and cannot be reasoned with to see the world otherwise.
Word History: Mumpsimus is a lexical peculiarity better explained with a story than an etymology. There once was a medieval monk who persistently mispronounced Latin sumpsimus "we have taken" as mumpsimus in the Latin Eucharist. Whether from ignorance or illiteracy, when the mistake was pointed out to him, his response was remarkable. The monk firmly stated that he had pronounced this word the same way for 40 years and added, “I will not change my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus.” With this statement he carved a place for his new word in lexical history, simultaneously girding it with its singular meaning. (The Stargazer of our Agora, Larry Brady, often spies unique little gems like this one among the diamonds in his lexical sky.)