Myth #110: The insult “Your name is mud” comes from Dr. Samuel Mudd who treated Lincoln’s assassin.

Dr. Samuel Mudd

Dr. Samuel Mudd

Does the phrase ‘your name is mud’ or ‘your name will be mud’ come from Dr. Samuel Mudd who was known for helping John Wilkes Booth? My colleagues and I have been discussing this and I thought I would ask. Del Taylor, Program Coordinator, Sainte-Marie among the Hurons

     Dr. Samuel Mudd was accused of helping John Wilkes Booth prior to Lincoln’s assassination and of treating his broken leg as he fled Washington after killing the president. He was imprisoned and then pardoned many years later. But the phrase has nothing to do with Dr. Mudd. 

     The Oxford English Dictionary, in an entry revised in December 2007, dates the first written example of the phrase at 1823, more than four decades before Lincoln was assassinated. Moreover, the term appeared in a British book, not an American one. It meant what it appears to mean–that your name is (or will be) dirty as mud if you do such-and-such. 

7 Responses to Myth #110: The insult “Your name is mud” comes from Dr. Samuel Mudd who treated Lincoln’s assassin.

  1. Brian Leehan says:

    Both make sense, but the 1823 written example clinches it, in terms of origin. I don’t ever recall seeing it written – only spoken. So, I always saw it in my mind’s-eye as “Your name will be Mudd.”

  2. janice says:

    i have heard this or even read it in books about the death of lincoln. thank you for this info

  3. LYMHHM says:

    But the Dr. Mudd myth is so much more colorful. Thanks to BF Gates, AKA Nicolas Cage, we now have a new generation of misguided souls concerning real history. Thanks for the post,

    • Mary Miley says:

      And that’s the problem with most myths–they are memorable or funny or scary or sexy and more interesting, in some cases, than the truth. Oh well . .. .

  4. M Rob says:

    Phrase and word meaning evolve and become more significant as events dictate. A phrase originally coined in 1823 Britain could very easily have taken on an American flavor following the infamy of Dr. Mudd.

  5. David says:

    Sometimes there are historical events that redefine what an expression means. So, I completely agree with M Rob.

  6. PMV says:

    I agree with M Rob and David.

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