Mumpsimus*

Image: “Portrait of Henry VIII” is a lost work by Hans Holbein the Younger depicting Henry VIII. It was destroyed by fire in 1698, but is still well known through many copies. It is one of the most iconic images of Henry and is one of the most famous portraits of any British monarch. It was originally created in 1536–1537 as part of a mural showing the Tudor dynasty at the Palace of Whitehall, London.

On Saturday Live (BBC Radio 4) today, Susie Dent introduced this word.

From Wikipedia:

“A *mumpsimus (/ˈmʌmpsɪməs/) is a “traditional custom obstinately adhered to however unreasonable it may be”, or “someone who obstinately clings to an error, bad habit or prejudice, even after the foible has been exposed and the person humiliated; also, any error, bad habit, or prejudice clung to in this fashion”. Thus it may describe behaviour or the person who behaves thus. For example, all intensive purposes is a common eggcorn of the fixed expression all intents and purposes; if a person continues to say the eggcorn even after being made aware of the correct form, either the speaker or the phrase may be called a mumpsimus.

The term originates from an apocryphal story about a poorly educated Catholic priest saying Latin mass who, in reciting the postcommunion prayer Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine (meaning: “What we have received in the mouth, Lord”), instead of sumpsimus (meaning: “we have received”) substitutes the non-word mumpsimus, presumably as a mondegreen. After being made aware of his mistake, he nevertheless persisted with his erroneous version, whether from stubbornness, force of habit, or refusing to believe he was mistaken.

The story was told by Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) in a letter he wrote in August 1516 to Henry Bullock. Erasmus used it as an analogy with those who refused to accept that Novum Instrumentum omne, his edition of the Greek New Testament, corrected errors in the Latin Vulgate. The English diplomat Richard Pace (1482–1536) included a variant in his 1517 work De Fructu qui ex Doctrina Percipitur, where the priest was English and had been saying mumpsimus for thirty years when corrected. While Pace’s book (written in Latin) is credited by the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary as the origin of “mumpsimus”, Pace acknowledged his borrowing in a 1517 letter to Erasmus. “Mumpsimus and sumpsimus” became proverbial among Protestants in the early English Reformation.

Mumpsimus soon entered the language as a cant word widely used by 16th-century writers. In William Tyndale’s 1530 book Practice of Prelates, the word was used in the sense of a stubborn opponent to Tyndale’s views. He said that the men whom Cardinal Wolsey had asked to find reasons why Catherine of Aragon was not truly the wife of King Henry VIII of England were “all lawyers, and other doctors, mumpsimuses of divinity”.

In 1531 Sir Thomas Elyot used the word in his Boke named the Gouvernor where he said of Magnanimitie that the word, “being yet straunge, as late borowed out of the Latyne, shall not content all men, and specially them whome nothing contenteth out of their accustomed mumpsimus”.

Henry VIII in his speech at the State Opening of Parliament on Christmas Eve 1545 said:

I see and hear daily, that you of the clergy preach one against another, teach, one contrary to another, inveigh one against another, without charity or discretion. Some be too stiff in their old mumpsimus, other be too busy and curious in their new sumpsimus. Thus, all men almost be in variety and discord, and few or none do preach, truly and sincerely, the word of God, according as they ought to do

…Eugene T. Maleska, 1970s editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle, received “dozens of letters” after “mumpsimus” appeared as an answer; he had felt that “it was time to revive the obsolete noun”. A. Leslie Derbyshire applied it in a 1981 management science book to managers who know how to do a better job but choose not to. Garner’s Modern English Usage says the word could describe George W. Bush because of his persistent habit of pronouncing “nuclear” as “nucular”, despite the error being widely reported.”

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