Mum's the word

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Mum's the word is a popular English idiom. It is related to an expression used by William Shakespeare, in Henry VI, Part 2.[1]

The word “mum” is a slanged version of momme, which was used between 1350-1400 in Middle English with very close to the same meaning: Be silent; Do not reveal

Meaning[edit]

"Mum's the word" means to keep silent or quiet.

Mum is a Middle English word meaning 'silent',[2] and may be derived from the mummer who acts without speaking.[3] Note the similar English word "mime" (Old English "mīma", Latin "mimus") meaning silent actor or imitator.

Origin[edit]

The origins of the phrase can be traced back to the fourteenth century and William Langland's narrative poem, Piers Plowman:

Thou mightest beter meten the myst on Malverne hulles
Then geten a mom of heore mouth til moneye weore schewed!

It can also be seen in popular fifteenth-century Towneley Plays:[4]

Though thi lyppis be stokyn, yit myght thou say 'mum'.

The phrase notably appears in Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2:

Seal up your lips and give no words but mum.

References[edit]