Sunday, May 19, 2024

“Mumbo Jumbo” in Thomas Hardy’s “A Pale of Blue Eyes” (1873) and Francis Moore’s "Travels Into the Inland Parts of Africa" (1738)

In "A Pair of Blue Eyes" (1873), Thomas Hardy refers to "a species of Mumbo Jumbo." As so often, I wondered then about the history of an expression I did not know had been around that long. The word is first recorded by the "Oxford English Dictionary" in English geographer Francis Moore's "Travels Into the Inland Parts of Africa" (1738), where it refers not only to a god, spirit, or idol, a "dreadful Bugbear to the Women, call'd Mumbo-Jumbo", but also to "a cant language [...] called Mumbo-Jumbo". Perhaps I would have long since known about the word's African origins if I had ever read Ishmael Reed's 1972 novel "Mumbo Jumbo"! (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 19 May 2024)

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