What is the origin of the expression mug up?
How did it originate? Does it give any meaning to its actual definition?
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The Oxford English Dictionary's first sense for their 5th verb mug is:
1. intr. To read or study in a concentrated manner. Now freq. with up (on a subject, book, etc.); also formerly with away at, on at.
Their first quotation is from 1848 but I found a slight antedating from in The King's College Magazine of November 1841 (p.235, "Our School Days" by C.H.H.):
If I was industrious, I was sure of a thrashing from some big bully, for " mugging," instead of playing at cricket; if I was idle, I was equally sure of a caning from the master, for not " mugging."
Their second sense:
2. trans. To learn (a subject, book, etc.) by hard or concentrated study. Usu. with up.
They date this to 1868 but I found an earlier example from the 1856 Aldershottana: or, Chinks in my hut:
Anon I ordered arms, and let the men stand easy, taking a leaf from Major Coolsneer's book — viz., " Let the men stand at ease ; they are thankful for the indulgence, and look upon it as an act of grace. Meantime, you are quietly mugging up on your next evolution and the proper words of command."
And from 1861's Hills and plains:
The Buffadars always prided themselves upon sticking to the regiment ; they were not like other fellows " mugging up " languages and " sucking " far and wide for staff appointments, doing all they could to shirk their duty.
Here's also an 1866.
The OED says the origin is unknown but perhaps related to an earlier meaning: "To pout, grow sullen; to mope." from the noun mug, a face.
My guess is it comes from having your face, your mug, close to books when studying.
The term mug up has had various meanings since the 19th century, including to kiss passionately (Austral.), and to paint one's face.
Nowadays in Britain it means to do some concentrated study, (e.g., for an exam, related word - 'cram'), or to bring oneself up to speed quickly with some field of knowledge.
The OED indicates many examples of mug used in the sense of concentrated study. But it is only in recent decades that the up has been added.
It is a ditransitive verb, section 1 below relating to intransitive use and section 2 to transitive.
The OED dates its use from the 19th century, but of origin unknown.
- intr. To read or study in a concentrated manner. Now freq. with up (on a subject, book, etc.); also formerly with away at, on at.
The expression "mug up" also appears in Agatha Christie's The Body in the Library, in which the character Raymond Starr says, "The trouble I took to mug up that bit about the Devonshire Starrs...Oh, well, my luck's out. Dance, dance, little gentleman." In this context, it almost seems (to me) that it means "make up a fictitious story".