‘His or her name is mud’ is an expression dating from the 1820’s.
When someone’s name is mud it means they have a very poor reputation, have been discredited or disgraced, and that they are generally detested. This idiom is especially used when one’s reputation in professional circles has been maligned.
Examples Of Use
“Candidate Johnson is on trial for conspiracy and now the senator’s name is mud for having supported him.”
“As a known embezzler, his name is mud.”
There is controversy about the origin of this idiom. Many maintain that (one’s) name is mud is a proper name idiom, attributed to Dr. Samuel Mudd. In print, the expression is sometimes written with a captial M.
According to this theory, the saying derives from incidents surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. The actor John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincon in the president’s box and Ford’s Theatre during a performance of Our American Cousin. After shooting the president, Boothe leaped from the balcony to the stage and broke his leg (or ankle). He managed to get away despite this and escaped to Maryland where he went to Dr. Mudd’s house. There, Dr. Mudd set his broken leg.
Boothe was later captured by Union soldiers, and since Dr. Mudd has helped him, he was tried as a conspirator and taken to prison. He became so infamous and detested that his name became associated with being hated, and the expression “his name is mud” was born.
The allegations against Dr. Mudd were based on emotion rather than facts. He was a doctor who set someone’s leg. He was very nearly executed, but for one vote. Later on, he was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. But, the idiom bearing his name was already cemented, right?
Wrong. The fact is that the idiom had already existed before Lincoln’s assassination and only became associated with Dr. Mudd after the fact. 1O’Conner, Patricia T., and Stewart Kellerman. Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language. New York: Random House, 2009.
The word mud has been a word for dope or fool since the 1700’s and had remained so for centuries. It reflected all the connoatios of mud such as thickness, slow-moving, etc. 2Crystal, David. Words in Time and Place: Exploring Language through the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. The expression, his name is mud, is related to this use, and appeared in writing in 1823, according to the the Oxford English Dictionary.
It is associated with the British parliament, where it was used to described the name of a disgraced member, along with other another mud related idiom which arose in the early 19th century to “drag through the mud” or “drag one’s name through the mud.”
Other mud related idioms are “clear as mud” and “here’s mud in your eye” used before drinking. 3Cresswell, Julia. Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins. New York: Oxford UP, 2010.
More Idioms Starting with N
More Mud Idioms
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Sources [ + ]
|1.||↲||O’Conner, Patricia T., and Stewart Kellerman. Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language. New York: Random House, 2009.|
|2.||↲||Crystal, David. Words in Time and Place: Exploring Language through the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014.|
|3.||↲||Cresswell, Julia. Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins. New York: Oxford UP, 2010.|