• mutt •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An ugly animal or person or one in poor condition, especially a horse or dog. 2. A dog of mixed breed. 3. A blockhead, bonehead, dunderhead, meathead, muttonhead, numbskull—in other words, a stupid person.
Notes: President-elect Obama in his first press conference after the election promised his daughters a new puppy. He then indicated that he and the First Lady elect would prefer a dog from the pound, adding that such a dog would be "a mutt, like me", meaning a creature of mixed breeding.
In Play: Today this word is used more often in the US in reference to a mixed breed dog: "Portia Carr doesn't want some mutt from the pound; she wants a dog with a pedigree as long as hers." However, it is still sometimes used to refer to people: "Chastity, I didn't send you to private schools and Harvard so you could marry a tattooed mutt on a motorcycle."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a clipping or reduction of muttonhead "stupid person". Sheep have been taken to be stupid since time immemorial. Sheep's head was a phrase for "stupid person" before muttonhead. During the Norman Period of English history, our Anglo-Saxon forefathers raised pigs, cows, and sheep but could hardly afford the meat of these animals; only the French-speaking Normans could. For this reason the meat of these animals came to have French names: pork (French porc), beef (bœuf), and mutton (mouton). Eventually, sheep's head slipped into muttonhead. By 1901 this word had been clipped down to mutt. (We would never question Jane Haines's pedigree as a logophile after her discovery of the curiosity in today's mutt of a Good Word.)
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