Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Today's Word: mugwump

mugwump: In the late 19th century, mugwump was a disparaging term for New York Republicans who supported Democrat Grover Cleveland in the 1884 presidential election. It stems from an Algonquin term for a "person of importance" — a high muckety-muck.

The epithet was supposedly given by Charles Anderson Dana, editor of the New York Sun, who claimed that the party-crossing Republicans had their "mug" on one side of the fence and their "wump" on the other.

More recently, William Burroughs commandeered the term for his own purposes. From Naked Lunch:

On stools covered in white satin sit naked Mugwumps sucking translucent, colored syrups through alabaster straws. Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor-sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addicting fluid from their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism. . . . Addicts of Mugwump fluid are known as Reptiles. A number of these flow over chairs with their flexible bones and black-pink flesh. A fan of green cartilage covered with hollow, erectile hairs through which the Reptiles absorb the fluid sprouts from behind each ear. The fans, which move from time to time touched by invisible currents, serve also some form of communication known only to the Reptiles.

During the biennial Panics when the raw, pealed Dream Police storm the City, the Mugwumps take refuge in the deepest crevices of the wall, sealing themselves in clay cubicles and remain for weeks in biostasis. In those days of grey terror the Reptiles dart about faster and faster, scream past each other at supersonic speed, their flexible skulls flapping in black winds of insect agony.

The Dream Police disintegrate in globs of rotten ectoplasm swept away by an old junky, coughing and spitting in the sick morning. The Mugwump Man comes with alabaster jars of fluid and the Reptiles get smoothed out.

The air is once again still and clear as glycerine.

In David Cronenberg's movie adaptation of Naked Lunch, the Mugwump's "erect penises" sprout not from between the legs, but from the top of the head. Here's a picture of William Burroughs with a movie mugwump.