Mum's the Word (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Mum's the Word"?

The term "mum's the word" means to keep quiet.
Mum's the Word (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • We're throwing a surprise party. Say nothing. Mum's the word.
  • I don't want anyone to know that I'm pregnant yet, so mum's the word.
The word "mum" in "mum's the word" has nothing to do with mothers. It is, in fact, an example of onomatopoeia (i.e., using a word that imitates the sound it describes). Specifically, "mum" relates to the "mmm" sound made with a closed mouth that suggests an inability to speak. The term originates from the early 18th century.

Of note, the word "mum" has been associated with keeping silent since at least the Middle Ages. At Christmas in England, groups of mummers (or mimes) disguised in costumes would visit houses, where they would be invited to dance, play games, and make merry. This was all done in silence to hide the mummers' identities. The only sound they uttered was "mmm," leading to the name mummers.

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