Bookshelp header image for page World Wide Words logo

Mundungus

Pronounced /mʌnˈdʌŋɡəs/Help with pronunciation

The Spanish have a perfectly respectable word mondongo for the tripes, the stomach linings of cows or oxen that are served as food. Many people adore tripe, especially served with onions, but others find it repulsive to varying degrees. Hence our slang use of tripe for worthless stuff or rubbish.

The English borrowed the Spanish word in the seventeenth century, at first with the same sense, but then hacked it about a bit to fit English mouths, so creating mundungus, and applied it figuratively to any offal or refuse.

Later, it was used in particular for a foul-smelling form of cheap tobacco. In his Journal of A Voyage to Lisbon, published in 1755, Henry Fielding wrote: “It was in truth no other than a tobacco of the mundungus species”. It has largely gone out of use, except when an author is attempting to reinforce an historical period, as Patrick O’Brian does in The Ionian Mission: “If you have finished, Stephen, pray smoke away. I am sure you bought some of your best mundungus in Mahon”.

It’s gained a higher recognition factor in recent years because of the character Mundungus Fletcher who appears in several of the Harry Potter books by J K Rowling. Mr Fletcher is a bad’un, “a smelly sneak thief”, a liar and a cheat, so his name is apposite. Here he’s up to his tricks in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: “Mundungus Fletcher’s put in a claim for a twelve-bedroomed tent with en-suite Jacuzzi, but I’ve got his number. I know for a fact he was sleeping under a cloak propped on sticks.”

Share this page
Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon Google+

Search World Wide Words

Support World Wide Words!

Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.


Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!

OTHER WAYS TO HELP

Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 20 Jan. 2001
Last updated 26 Jan. 2008

Advice on copyright

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.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-mun1.htm
Last modified: 26 January 2008.