mug
Posted: 03 September 2011 06:15 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I saw this use of the verb to mug to in a recent Globe and Mail article:

Back home, we listen to our teachers, and basically mug everything they say. The more you write your answers exactly the way they say it, the better chance you have of getting an A.

I’d never heard this use of mug before and wondered if it was Indian English. Anyone else heard it?

The OED3 has mug, v.5 meaning “to read or study in a concentrated manner.” And Green’s Dictionary of Slang has a late-19th and early-20th century use meaning “to speak” and also mugger, “a speaker.”

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Posted: 03 September 2011 07:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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To my knowledge, I have not heard or read this usage of “to mug.”

School-life at Winchester College; or, The reminiscences of a Winchester Junior by Robert Blachford Mansfield, 1866 offers:

MUG—To read hard; also to pay great attention to anything; any one cleaning and oiling a bat was said to “Mug” it; a boy with carefully greased and brushed hair was said to have “mugged” hair.

Note: In the intro, the author reports that this is written 25 years after his experiences at the school.  That would make his reference apply to 1841 and likely earlier, so I bet there are earlier references to this use of “to mug” than that. 

Was there much language-related feedback from India at that time?

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Posted: 03 September 2011 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Here’s the Green’s Dictionary of Slang entry:

mug (up) v.2 [orig. theatrical use, mug up v.1 (1), i.e. paint one’s face, as part of preparing to perform a role] to study hard, to learn, to memorize, esp. a specific lesson for a specific test or examination; thus mugging up, studying hard.

1860 Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. (2nd edn) 177: Mug-up […] To ‘cram’ for an examination. — Army. 1866 Mansfield School-Life at Winchester College (1870) 122: The Praefects would subside into comfortably stuffed seats between their scobs, and set to work ‘Mugging,’ (reading hard). 1870 Hotten Sl. Dict. 1889 G. Allen Tents of Shem II 122: Not clever, Iris corrected; only well read. I’ve mugged it up out of books. 1890 Kipling ‘The Story of the Gadbsys’ in Soldiers Three (1907) 159: I’ve been mugging up that beastly drill. 1900 Bulletin (Sydney) 29 Sept. 13/1: Old Carr believed in his new-found mate for a long time, till he found out that ‘Bouverie-Smith,’ who edits an alleged comic paper in the Strand, had been ‘mugging up’ an old paper of Carr’s sent some time previously to the R.G.S. 1913 A. Lunn Harrovians 24: What was the point of mugging up all this dull stuff? 1937 A. Christie Murder in the Mews (1954) 114: She mugs up historical stuff for writers. 1940 E. Curry Hysterical Hist. of Aus. 1: I could mug up the subject (like a University student). 1959 I. & P. Opie Lore and Lang. of Schoolchildren (1977) 199: ‘Swotting’ or ‘mugging up’ is only considered good form if a person is on the point of taking an exam. 1971 M. Novotny Kings Road 192: I’m not going to Africa to mug up on Black Art. 1980 (con. 1940s) O. Manning Sum of Things 442: I was never keen on mugging up school books. 2000 Indep. Rev. 22 Jan. 20: I can’t really mug up on any questions.

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Posted: 03 September 2011 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Pretty common in the UK and the definition in lh’s post above is spot on. At school if you had an exam the next day you’d mug up on the subject the night before. Swot was another similar term common in my schooldays, but a swot was someone who customarily studied hard, whereas any idle bugger could mug up on something at the last minute (and I often did!). I never heard mug used as a noun in this sense though, just the verb to mug up (rarely without the up).

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Posted: 03 September 2011 11:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Mug up on was what sprang to mind here as well. Never heard it without the up.

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Posted: 03 September 2011 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The OED does say for this sense of the verb to mug: “Now freq. with up.”

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