• mugwump •
mêg-wêmp • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (Capitalized: Mugwump) A Republican who refused to support the party's presidential candidate, James G. Blaine, in 1884. 2. A person who switches political parties or an independent who disdains the politics of both parties. In other words, a person with his mug on one side of the fence and his wump on the other. 3. (A bit dated) A person who considers him- or herself above others out of a sense of self-importance, a bigwig, a kingpin, panjandrum.
Notes: This word comes with a jovial family of words, including the nouns mugwumpism, if you prefer formality, or mugwumpery, if not. People who behave like mugwumps are mugwumpish and behave mugwumpishly.
In Play: The disadvantage of being an independent in the US is that independents have no interesting name associated with them: we call them simply "independents". Well, here is the word to pull independents off that snag: "With the Democrats and Republicans almost evenly divided this year, the mugwumps are likely to decide the outcome of the presidential election."
Word History: American politicians borrowed this word from the original Americans, in this case from Massachusett, an Algonquian language originally spoken in the state named after the people who spoke it. In 1663, the Reverend John Eliot of Roxborough, Massachusetts, published the first grammar of the language. According to Eliot, the Massachusetts called their chief a mugquomp. Although the first published example of this word appeared only in 1828, there is ample reason to believe that it was used earlier as a facetious term referring to American leaders from Europe. When the Europeans adopted it, they retained the sarcasm.