Disgust with MP’s acting like high muck-a-mucks

A hundred and sixteen summers ago, they had the same discontents.

Wind and oratory

In BC, what were they complaining about?

High muck-a-muck

“High muck-a-mucks” in the Dominion parliament!

This is one of the earlier instances I’ve been able to find of this phrase.  (Revelstoke (BC) Herald, July 13, 1898.)

Merriam-Webster has it as a folk etymology from Chinook Jargon.  That’s to say English speakers borrowed háyú mə́kʰmək from Chinuk Wawa–and then naturally reanalyzed it into parts that were more Englishy.

My copy of Mitford Mathews’ Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles has a first attestation of the phrase in English in the sense of “‘a big bug’, a pompous person, a person of importance” (his gloss), in an 1856 Sacramento, CA, newspaper article.  His next cite is from 1880 (the bibliography shows it as 1894), from a book Bill Nye and Boomerang by Edgar Wilson Nye.  That one is humorous in tone, not necessarily Northwestern but explicitly linked with Native people: “By the Great High Muck-A-Muck of the Ute Nation…”.  (That’s on page 241 of the edition I viewed online.  Nye uses “most worthy high grand muck-a-muck” also on page 12.)

Google Ngram Viewer shows this phrase coming into noticeable use just before 1900.  The spelling “high muckamuck” (without hyphens) is the more common one for most of its anglophone history, especially in the last 50 years.

highmuckmuck_final

Also in the Kootenays, “High Muck A Muck” appears as the name of a current art exhibit on the Chinese immigrant experience.  It involves Fred Wah, which might account for the linking of Chinese with Chinook Jargon; I recall him making the connection in regard to this phrase in one of his published interviews.

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