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Mummery

Definition: An ostentatious or absurd performance/ceremony/pantomime made up of ostentatious or absurd performers.

Pronunciation: Mum-er-ee

Origin: c. 1400. Probably an amalgamation of the French momeur (to mask ones-self) and the English Mommen (to be silent or to mutter).

Why this word?

The word mummer is used to describe a person who is wearing a mask in a theatrical way, or someone who is ‘merrymaking’ or pantomiming. It is a wonderfully ridiculous word for someone who is overacting.

Mummery, therefore, is a collection of such people putting on an overly-theatrical show – though not necessarily in the theater.

Think of its use here by Dickens and the scene it paints: “… look where you would, there was a motley assemblage of feasting, talking begging, gambling and mummery.”

Of particular interest is the fact that although it is obsolete in much of the English-speaking world, it has, for some reason, survived in use in Philadelphia. Nobody seems quite sure why this is – but there may be a clue in the fact that Philadelphia was the first political capital of the US …

How to use this word in a sentence:

If you are a journalist, mummery could be used to describe that farcical courtroom trial. If you are a theater critic, you could deploy it to describe a badly over-acted play. Or, perhaps most aptly of all, if you come from a background like mine, you will need every word you can to describe the mummery that we call ‘family’ …

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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!

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