What’s the Word #21 – Hugger-mugger

March 20, 2016 at 12:02 am | Posted in Today's Reasons To Celebrate | Leave a comment

Today’s word hugger-mugger is a word that can be a noun, an adjective, or a verb, depending on the context.

Used as a noun, it means:

  1. disorder or confusion; muddle.
  2. secrecy; reticence.


  1. Ernie’s storage shed is a hugger-mugger of memorabilia, old clothing, disused kitchen gadgets, and tools.
  2. A sense of hugger-mugger filled the room as Col. Sanders prepared to reveal the eleven herbs and spices used in his secret recipe.

Used as an adjective, it means:

  1. disorderly or confused.
  2. secret or clandestine.


  1. Donald Trump’s hugger-mugger strategy in his Presidential campaign might play well in the primaries, but will surely result in his defeat in the general election if he becomes the Republican nominee.
  2. The star’s hugger-mugger meeting with the film’s director ended abruptly when the paparazzi burst through the door.

Used as a verb, it means:

  1. to keep secret or concealed; hush up.
  2. to act secretly.


  1. Ernie asked his friend for hugger-mugger about his planned business venture.
  2. Despite his attempts at hugger-mugger, the spy was eventually caught.

The origins of hugger-mugger are from  the early 16th century: probably related to huddle and to dialect mucker‘ (hoard money, conceal’). This is one of a number of similar formations from late Middle English to the 16th century, including hucker-mucker and hudder-mudder, with the basic sense ‘secrecy, concealment’. In that time period, the use of similar-sounding reduplicated words was quite popular.

I discovered this word nearly 20 years ago from, of all places, a talk radio show. The emcee was interviewing a woman who had created a new  board game called “Hugger-Mugger”, which naturally was a word game. I was immediately interested, and as soon as time allowed, I did some research. I eventually found and actually bought the game. It has since been relegated to a box somewhere in my storage shed. Alas, for some reason, my family refuses to play the game with me.



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