Mumpsimus

January 19, 2017 ☞ Word of the day

A person who obstinately adheres to old ways in spite of clear evidence that they are wrong.

Worthy words come with scintillating etymologies, but this one reads like an old joke.

There was a medieval monk who consistently repeated a phrase from the Latin Eucharist wrongly. For those not versed in Latin, the phrase quod in ōre sumpsimus means “which we have taken into the mouth.” (I’ll pause for your snickers.) But whether the cause of poor eyesight or poor literacy, the old monk would instead say:

quod in ore mumpsimus

And this is gibberish. In a version of this story from 1517 (variously attributed to Richard Pace or Desiderius Erasmus), the religious man’s mistake persisted for decades. But when finally confronted with his error, the monk obstinately replied:

“I will not change my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus.”

Nearly half a millennium before “the card says Moops” and Donald Trump, this guy was laying down this post-truth prevarication, medieval style. I can only imagine our mumpsimus-mouthed monk would feel right at home in today’s frosty intellectual climate.