The origin of this word for an important person is from the Chinook Jargon muckamuck, meaning food, or when used as a vert to eat. Chinook Jargon, not to be confused with the native American language Chinook, was a pidgin used by traders in the American Northwest with Chinook, Nootka, English, and French at its core. Muckamuck may originally come from the Nootka mahomaq, meaning whalemeat, but this last is uncertain.
English use of muckamuck, in the sense of to eat, dates to 1838 when it appears in a glossary, Samuel Parker’s Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains:
Naturalized use dates to at least 1853 when Theodore Winthrop used it in a letter that was published in The Canoe and the Saddle ten years later:
We stopped once or twice for them to “muck-a-muck,” which they are ready for forty times a day.
English use as a noun dates to 1847 when it appears in a glossary, Joel Palmer’s Journal of Travels Over the Rocky Mountains:
Muck-a-muck, Provisions, eat.
The word appears completely naturalized by 1852, when it appears in the Oregonian of 25 December:
The aborigine..."put" for the settlement with a sort of legs-do-your-duty-for-the-body-is-in-danger resolution for his muckamuck.
The sense meaning an important person appears first as high muckamuck. This is from the Chinook Jargon hiu (plenty) + muckamuck (food). A visitor or guest who was important would rate a banquet, but in English the first element was reinterpreted to mean high, or important. This sense in English dates to 1856 when it appears in the Sacramento Democratic State Journal of 1 November:
The professors—the high "Muck-a-Mucks"—tried fusion, and produced confusion.
Copyright 1997-2016, by David Wilton