Printable Version
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 a mistake, mumpsimus has to be the medical term for someone with mumps. Not at all; the similarity is pure happenchance. This is another funny word that resulted from a mispronunciation which, because of the peculiarity of its circumstances, stuck in the language.

In Play: A mumpsimus is a curmudgeon firmly stuck in the mud of time: "Andy Bellam is an incorrigible mumpsimus, who still writes letters on his old Smith-Corona typewriter." Keep in mind that a mumpsimus may also be the outdated notion that a mumpsimus clings to: "Andy still holds firmly to the old mumpsimus that walking beneath a ladder brings bad luck."

Word History: Mumpsimus is a lexical peculiarity better explained with a story than a formal 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: people like the monk himself. True or not, this story is the best etymologists have come up with.

Dr. Goodword,

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