The Phrontistery




On Mulism

Linguistic Disquisitions

There are two reasons you may have reached this page. The first is that you are a lover of words and a reader of my web site, the Phrontistery. The second is that you are one of the many people who, in searching for information on adherents of one of the world's most popular religions, have made a spelling error. If you have come to this page looking for information on Muslims, and aren't interested in a discussion of the quite different word, 'mulism', I might suggest you try Islam World. While any discussion of a religion written by its adherents is bound to have a particular point of view, this is a resource with a great deal of information and links to other sites. My page, on the other hand, is a short essay devoted to the rejuvenation of the word mulism.

So, to clarify things somewhat:

mulism n a mulish habit or characteristic; an obstinate quirk. Also muleism. (mule stubborn person + ism)

Muslim n or adj an adherent of Islam; pertaining to followers of Islam. Also Moslem. (Arabic muslim, one who surrenders)

At the time I am writing, 142 pages listed on Google contain the word 'mulism'. As far as I can tell, somewhat fewer than five of these pages are actually using the word in its proper sense, and all the others are misspellings. In fact, since a couple 'mulism' pages are from my site, it nearly qualifies as a lost word for my Compendium. This is quite striking; I cannot easily think of any other circumstance where a misspelling would predominate over a proper word with such enormity. Well, there is nacket, a Scots dialect term meaning 'a snack or light lunch', which is overwhelmed by the misspelling of German nackt 'naked' as nacket. And don't get me started on 'gey' and the people who are disappointed upon reaching my site after searching for it. Curiously, 'mulism' appears to be just about as common as 'mulsim', even though the latter misspelling requires less transposition of letters. On that note, I wonder how much extra traffic the Multiprocessor Simulator gets these days.

It shouldn't be surprising that proper uses of 'mulism' are so rare. It is found in few dictionaries; I tracked it down in the enormous Oxford English Dictionary some months ago. Moreover, it is a nonce-word, meaning that it was coined for use on a single occasion, without any intention by the author of its adoption as a word for general use. In cases where a nonce-word is used by a particularly well-known author or in a very famous work, it may be adopted more widely. I'm certain that Shakespeare would be quite surprised that we're still using the word mountaineer four centuries after he coined it in The Tempest. Unfortunately for mulism, its inventor was the somewhat less famous Anna Seward (1742-1809), an English poet known as "the Swan of Lichfield", and the context in which it occurred was in a set of letters published in 1811, two years after her death. It was used one further time, in 1861 with a different sense, relating to the creation of hybrid creatures, and then it fell into the abyss where forgotten words go to slumber.

Until now.

I like mulism. It infuses a simple habit or quirk with the qualities of stubbornness and obstinacy. As such, it is akin to mumpsimus 'a view stubbornly held even when shown to be wrong', which is one of my 50 favourite words. The only thing wrong with mulism is its ignoble origin as a neologism. Nevertheless, shouldn't we be able to see past that and perceive its utility? For instance, one of my peculiar mulisms is my rather irrational refusal to watch movies made before 1960. Silly? Obstinate? Quirky? Darn right, and I'm proud of it.

Do I think this page will solve the problem of 'mulism/Muslim'? Certainly not. In most cases, it's just a typo, and these will plague us forever. Do I think those who spell 'Muslim' incorrectly on one occasion ought to be flogged or suffer eternal damnation? Again, no; to err is human. Both Muslims and non-Muslims alike are guilty of the occasional 'mulism' or 'mulsim'. Do I think that 'mulism' should be resuscitated? Why not? I won't deny that part of the reason I've put together this little page is to profit from its near-homography with a much more common term. If you have ever desperately wanted to coin a word that achieves worldwide acceptance, my relationship with 'mulism' indicates that you should pounce on such coincidental resemblances as a source of future fame, at least in this era when the search engine is as likely to be consulted as a dictionary. And just maybe 'mulism' will someday come to be honoured in the English language as it should be. If so, you heard it here first.



I hope you have found this site to be useful. If you have any corrections, additions, or comments, please contact me. Please note that I am not able to respond to all requests. Please consult a major dictionary before e-mailing your query. All material on this page © 1996-2014 Stephen Chrisomalis. Links to this page may be made without permission.

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