What is the origin of the expression mug up?
How did it originate? Does it give any meaning to its actual definition?
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.
1848 J. C. Maxwell in L. Campbell & W. Garnett Life J. C. Maxwell (1882) 117 Please to write about your Prizes at College, and about coming here to mug.
1860 J. C. Hotten Dict. Slang (ed. 2), Mug-up... To ‘cram’ for an examination.—Army.
1878 About Some Fellows vii. 45 Stortford, ever since he had settled to work, had..been patiently mugging on at his verses, and had got twelve done.
1893 G. Allen Scallywag I. 241 That prize essay you were mugging away at.
1915 H. L. Wilson Ruggles of Red Gap ix. 161 Many an hour found him mugging away at the book, earnestly striving to memorize the part.
1960 W. H. Auden Homage to Clio 90 You need not mug up on dates.
1989 R. MacNeil Wordstruck iv. 102 His marginal notes suggest that he mugged up on Milton..about five minutes before he confronted us.
1999 Alumnus (National Univ. Singapore) Apr. 55/2 You must have mugged all the way through school and are working so hard that you have no time to relax.
trans. To learn (a subject, book, etc.) by hard or concentrated study. Usu. with up.
1868 All Year Round 25 July 161/1 The officer who is going to get his company..is found ‘mugging up’ the red book at odd times with enthusiasm.
1882 W. Besant Revolt of Man v. 111 When they ought to have been ‘mugging bones’, or drawing contracts, or reading theology.
1889 G. Allen Tents of Shem II. xxiv. 122 I've mugged it up out of books, that's all. Anybody can mug it all up if he'll only take the pains.
1905 H. A. Vachell Hill iii. 51 We must mug up our ‘cons’ well enough to scrape along without ‘puns’ and extra school.
1959 Daily Tel. 10 June 10/2 But no one..after yesterday's inauguration of the new electric services from London to the Kent Coast is going to mind mugging up any number of amended arrival and departure times.
1987 R. Manning Corridor of Mirrors xiv. 151, I had mugged up a few Cornish folktales to tell Sue and keep her amused.
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".
Onboard a ship, the term mug up meant "pick up your mug while being served a beverage or it will spill all over". Especially during choppy or large seas.