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Definition: A game played – mostly by boys – since the dawn of time whereby a knife is thrown either at the ground or at some wood. The objective is to get the knife to ‘stick’.

Pronunciation: Mum-bul-teepeg

Origin: From ‘Mumble The Peg’ – the original name of the knife-game. It has its origins in 1627 – though reached the peak of its popularity with schoolboys in the 19th century. The name was most likely spread whenever large groups of men or boys and pocket-knives came together. Think of wars, scout jamborees and frontiersmen in the Wild West.

Why this word?

There is not a boy alive who has not played some version of this game. However, I suspect equally that there is not a child alive that realizes it has a name. For some, it may be a way of killing time when doing nothing in the army. Perhaps, for others, it was sitting around a campfire at dusk in the old American West. For me, it was in the boy-scouts in Ireland. Little did we know then that we were part of an international fraternity of mumbletypeg alumni…

It is interesting to note that in today’s world, where people complain about the amount of time spent by children in front of the television or the latest gaming console, they usually lament the lack of wholesome, outdoor fun that they nostalgically recall enjoying when they themselves were nippers.

I’m sure that if they really thought about it, though, they would remember hour upon hour spent playing with knives … Perhaps television is better after all!

Chrissy, when researching this word, came across an adult version of the game involving dropping the knife on one’s foot. The ‘winner’ is the person who can get the knife to stick in to the foot. Then again, ‘winner’ is such a subjective word …

How to Use This Word:

I suspect that this word went out of fashion with the alarming rise of knife crime in the late 20th century. Mumpletypeg essentially provided a ‘gateway’ to knife-play. Perhaps the word became obsolete as part of a cultural movement against knife culture – if the learning arena for knife-play loses its name, it loses legitimacy. If that is the case, which it very well may be, then it follows that Mumbletypeg – the childish-sounding word for early knife-play – may need to remain obsolete.


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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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