Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mingling, Mixture, Confusion, Mess

Saturday, word day. Increase your wordiness!
mongo (rhymes with "bongo") — noun: 1. an object retrieved from rubbish. 2. a scavenger.
A good one, even if the word doesn't appear very often attached to the above two definitions. Elswhere online, it's an ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a city in Indiana, the character in Blazing Saddles, a famous dwarf detective, a planet in Flash Gordon and the Filipino name for mung beans. According to this site, however, it's also a rarely used but technically valid word that has appeared at least twice in the New Yorker, both times referring to garbage being put to a use other than rotting in a landfill.

As World Wide Words notes, mongo is one of those wonderful American slang terms that lacks any clear etymology. Some educated guesses offer mungo, a word referring to a low-grade cloth made from previously used material. (It could also be that mungo somehow allowed Mungo Jerry to come to be, so I suppose we have to hate this word.) The way World Wide Words puts it, the Oxford English Dictionary suggests a possible further connection to the word mung — which means "a mingling, a mixture, a confusion, a mess" and which could also come from the among precursor ymong, meaning "a company of people." However, the OED also apparently suggests that the word comes from a Yorkshire folktale in which mungo cloth earned its name when its usefulness outweighed its crappiness. According to this story, It mun go (meaning "It will have to do") was run all together as mungo.

Nothing like a word that describes the state of scraping the bottom of the barrel when you have no other choices, right?

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