• mummer •
mêm-êr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A mime, a pantomime. 2. A brightly, indeed, fantastically costumed merrymaker at a festival.
Notes: The behavior of a mummer in either sense of today's Good Word is mummery. This noun can also refer to the costumes of merrymaking mummers. These mummers are prevalent in Thanksgiving and Fourth of July parades, where they generally march as flamboyant, high-stepping bands.
In Play: When Americans think of mummers today, they usually think of the high-stepping bands in gonzo costumes from the Philadelphia area: "I think the high school band's new uniforms are too flashy; they almost look like mummers." Of course, we may hyperbolize with this word whenever we see any outlandish or flamboyant outfit on someone: "Maude Lynn Dresser came to the party looking like a run-down mummer who had just stepped out of the 18th century!"
Word History: Today's Good Word is the word mum "silent, silence" with the suffix -er, which often doubles a final consonant (see also runner and quitter). Mum in this sense is onomatopoetic since it is pronounced by clinching the lips. It also underlies mumble. Where the second sense came from is a question with a bit more tangled answer. This sense may have resulted from an association with the word mime, inherited from Greek mimos via Latin mimus and French mime. Mimes are silent but they do wear costumes. Costumes are also implied by Dutch mommen "disguise" and French momerie "masquerade, masked ball", either of which could be the source of mummer in the second sense. (Today's Good Word was suggested by Michael A. Salsburg, a member of the Ferko String Band, which you can always watch in a Fourth of July parade near Philadelphia.)
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