What did Boris Johnson just call Jeremy Corbyn?
The Foreign Secretary muddled over mugwumps in an attack on the leader of the opposition.
Mugwump – it’s an insult that perhaps only Boris Johnson would use, and it appears that even he did not know exactly where it came from.
Quizzed on TV about his description of Jeremy Corbyn as a “mutton-headed old mugwump”, the Foreign Secretary said he had borrowed it from author Roald Dahl’s children’s classic Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
In fact, the word appears not in that book but in the much-loved story-teller’s 1972 follow-up, Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator, in which Willy Wonka refers to Mrs Bucket as “my dear old muddle-headed mugwump”.
But Dahl himself was borrowing from earlier sources when he used the term, which has made a surprising number of appearances in popular culture with a series of entirely different meanings.
Explaining where he had found it, Mr Johnson told ITV1’s Good Morning Britain: “It’s a long time since I read it, but I think it’s in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
“I think Willy Wonka says it either to the parents of Violet Beauregarde or Augustus Gloop.”
In fact, mugwump was initially a native American term for a war leader, which was taken up in the 1880s to describe members of the US Republican party who switched to support Democrat presidential candidate Grover Cleveland.
For some time afterwards, the word was used in the US to describe a political turncoat.
More recently, mugwumps featured in the graphic and surrealistic 1959 novel Naked Lunch by Beat Generation writer William Burroughs – filmed by David Cronenberg in 1991 – as a bizarre and reptilian alien species.
The term also appeared in the best-selling Harry Potter series to describe members of the International Confederation of Wizards, of which the character Albus Dumbledore was appointed Supreme Mugwump.
Mugwumps even entered the UK pop charts in 1994 when they were mentioned in the chorus of Bomb The Bass hit Bug Powder Dust, a homage to the Burroughs book.