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The noun is borrowed from Massachusett mugquomp, mummugquomp (war leader).[1] Folk etymology reinterpreted it as referring to a person who sat on the fence with their mug (face) on one side and “wump” (“rump”) on the other, which influenced political cartoons during the 1884 United States presidential election.

The verb is derived from the noun.[2]



mugwump (plural mugwumps) (chiefly US, also attributively)

  1. (chiefly humorous) A (male) leader; an important (male) person.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:important person
    Antonyms: see Thesaurus:nonentity
  2. (politics)
    1. (historical) A member of the Republican Party who declined to support the party's nominee James G. Blaine (1830–1893) during the 1884 United States presidential election, believing him to be corrupt, and instead supported the Democratic Party's candidate Grover Cleveland (1837–1908).
    2. (by extension) A person who purports to stay aloof from party politics.
    3. (by extension) One who switches from supporting one political party to another, especially for personal benefit.
  3. (by extension, colloquial, somewhat derogatory) A person who stays neutral or non-committal; a fence sitter; also, a person who maintains an aloof and often self-important demeanour.
    • 1935, George Goodchild, chapter 1, in Death on the Centre Court: A McLean Mystery, London: Hodder and Stoughton, OCLC 80449799:
      Anthea hasn't a notion in her head but to vamp a lot of silly mugwumps. She's set her heart on that tennis bloke [...] whom the papers are making such a fuss about.

Derived terms[edit]



mugwump (third-person singular simple present mugwumps, present participle mugwumping, simple past and past participle mugwumped) (chiefly US)

  1. (intransitive) To behave like a mugwump.
  2. (intransitive) To purport to stay aloof and independent, especially from party politics.



  1. ^ mugwump, n. and adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2003; “mugwump, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  2. ^ mugwump, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2003

Further reading[edit]