Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

His Name Is Mud

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 30, 2010

When John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln dead in 1865, he broke his leg trying to escape.  Booth sought — and received–  medical attention from a Dr. Samuel Mudd.  Now even though Mudd was convicted of being Booth’s co-conspirator in Abraham Lincoln’s death, and while it would be easy to conclude that the phrase came about as a result of this historic event, the fact of the matter is that the phrase “his name is mud” was already in use four decades before Lincoln was assassinated. 

Writing under the pen name John Bee, John Badcock’s book “Slang – A Dictionary of the Turf” published in 1823 stated:

“And his name is mud!” ejaculated upon the conclusion of a silly oration, or of a leader in the Courier.

What’s more, the “Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English” also referenced the phrase in its 1820 edition and stated that the phrase indicated an individual who was “utterly disgraced or defeated.”

However, an even earlier published record, the phrase can be found in the book by Tuus Inimicus entitled “Hell upon earth: or the most pleasant and delectable history of Whittington’s Colledge.”   This book was first published in 1703.

The phrase, however, goes back even farther to St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-390) — an unopposed advocate, along with Didymus and Diodorus of Tarsus, of universal redemption — who wrote in his “Sermo Catecheticus Magnus” that “man is mud whom God has commanded to become God.”

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