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Q From Bryan: My East End mother-in-law used to say she was well and truly mogadored when she was puzzled by something. Any idea of derivation and meaning?

A Now that’s a bit of British slang I haven’t heard in years and is probably pretty much obsolete. A rare recent sighting is in Maskerade, one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld fantasy stories:

Nanny Ogg stared. She’d seen many strange things in her life, some of them twice. .. But she’d never seen Granny Weatherwax in rouge. All her normal expletives of shock and surprise fused instantly, and she found herself resorting to an ancient curse belonging to her grandmother. “Well, I’ll be mogadored!”, she said.

As you say, it means that somebody is puzzled, confused, or “all at sea”. It’s also sometimes spelled moggadored, though it doesn’t turn up in print much in either spelling. (No relation to the British word moggy for a cat, by the way, which seems to be a pet form of Margaret.) The big Oxford English Dictionary has two examples only, from 1936 and 1945.

The writers of slang dictionaries are decidedly mogadored about its origin. It looks very much like rhyming slang for floored, which is likewise slang, meaning dumbfounded or confused. But the dispute arises over what the root is. Some say it is Irish, from magagh, to mock, jeer or laugh at, via an unrecorded intermediate form mogadói.

Others suggest that, like some other East End slang terms, it derives from the Gypsy language Romany (Cockney slang is like London itself, a melting pot, in which words from many sources are amalgamated, including Yiddish and old-time forces slang derived from languages around the world). In this case the source may be mokardi or mokodo, something tainted (these Romany words also provide the root for yet another slang phrase, to put the mockers on something, to jinx it).

Several subscribers have suggested possible links with placenames. A port in Morocco was once called Mogador (now Essaouira), which comes from a Berber word for a safe anchorage. The French navy bombarded Mogador during that country’s invasion of Morocco in 1844, but the British weren’t involved and the incident hardly merits a mention even in detailed histories of North Africa. It’s also the name of a village in Surrey, south of London, but no event of any note seems ever to have happened there, certainly none that might cause its name to be attached to a person who is confused or at a loss.

Sorry not to be able to be more definite!

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 10 Aug. 2002

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 10 August 2002.