Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mumbo Jumbo

Mumbo jumbo \MUHM-bo JUHM-bo\ , noun;
1. Senseless or pretentious language, usually designed to obscure an issue, confuse a listener, or the like
2. Meaningless incantation or ritual
3. An object of superstitious awe or reverence

Dating to 1738, the origin of mumbo jumbo is an idol supposedly worshiped by certain tribes in Africa. It is said to be a corruption of words in Mandingo, possibly Mama Dyumbo, but no one can find a likely link in Niger region languages, which is where the story originates. The meaning of "big, empty talk" is first attested in 1896.

Jumbo is not connected to mumbo jumbo, except that they both have unknown etymologies based on some African language. Jumbo, meaning "very large," is first attested in 1897 as American English in reference to Jumbo the elephant, who was sold from London Zoo to P.T. Barnum in 1882. The elephant's name may have come from a slang word jumbo, meaning "clumsy, unweilding fellow," which dates to around 1823. That word is possibly from a West African word for "elephant" (confer: Kongo nzamba).

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Thursday, April 21
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

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