March 21, 2008

Etymology of Insults

Between periods of game play in the NCAA tourney, we were watching some of the local TV commercials. One car dealer was extolling the features of whatever make he sells, crowing about how large the sale was. At the end of the commercial, to emphasize his point, he whipped out three yellow-on-blue printed cards and said, "This sale isn't just big, it's [card] Huge, it's [card] Enormous, it's [card] Mungo!" I made Patrick rewind so that I could see it again. Yes, he whipped out a giant Mungo.

Curious, I tried my best (read: spent 5 minutes) to find the origin of what I think mungo means: it's offensive slang for a mentally handicapped individual. I found that originally Mungo was a nice Scottish boy's name meaning "beloved." In the terrible cartoon Heathcliff that I watched sometimes as a kid, there was a cat named Mongo in it, so that makes some sense. My dictionary tells me that mungo is a "low-grade wool made from felted rags or waste." I also recalled that there is a Lake Mungo in Australia, the location of some important hominid finds, but these were found too recently to have lent their name to an offensive slang term. In all honesty, I had always thought that mungo came from a similarly offensive term, Mongoloid. That term, of course, was originally used to mean individuals from East Asia but became a racial classification in the 19th century and a synonym in the 20th century for individuals with Down syndrome.

Unfortunately, doesn't help at all. Definition 6 is actually "realy realy large [sic]", while definition 7 is the one I am used to. I seem to recall somewhere back in the early 90s the cool kids using words like humongo, short for humongous, but mungo? Maybe it's a regional dialect thing. Anyone have thoughts on this term?

If I can get a TV screen capture, I'll post a video or picture of the guy.


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