In a word: mumpsimus

March 19, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:

MUMPSIMUS

Misinformation has a long lifespan, as discussion of grammar and usage on the Internet reveal: stubborn adherence to bogus rules and refusal to consider empirical evidence about usage. That phenomenon reflects a larger human tendency: We think we know what we know, and we don't care to be contradicted.

There's a word for it. Mumpsimus is a long-held custom or notion stubbornly adhered to even after it has been demonstrated to be unreasonable; it is also a person demonstrating such obstinance.

We have the word from the sixteenth century, when a young priest corrected a subliterate older priest who had been mispronouncing a word in the Mass for years, saying mumpsimus in the text "quod in ore sumpsimus," "which we have taken into the mouth." Not taking kindly to correction, the older priest said, "I will not change my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus."

Mumble "mumpsimus" the next time you hear someone carrying on about split infinitives.

Example: From a 1936 Baltimore Sun article: "Dr. Alfred E. Smith's 'raddio' is an international joke, but Al is a shrewd enough showman to know that this mumpsimus is excellent publicity."


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