According to reputable sources, sideburns is a corruption of burnsides, a reference to the Civil War General Ambrose E. Burnside.

enter image description here

What was this style of facial hair called before that? I'm referring to side whiskers and a mustache with a clean-shaven chin.

Also, is there any difference between the original sideburns and friendly mutton chops?

  • Search "sideburns" in here, already has an answer
    – 7caifyi
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 17:53
  • @Christopher: I found this question, but it distinguishes in meaning between "sideburns," "whiskers" and "muttonchops": english.stackexchange.com/questions/103437/…
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 18:32
  • "sideboards" apparently has the same meaning, but I'd guess it is a more recent term derived from "sideburns."
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 18:37
  • On Google Ngram there are references to whiskers going back to the 16th century
    – 7caifyi
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 18:40
  • another synonym seems to be "bugger's grips," but again I don't know how old the term is.
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 18:41

1 Answer 1


The style was launched by Gen. Ambrose, so there was apparently no name for it before 1875. "Mutton chops" or "muttonchop whiskers" was used to refer to a similar style:


  • style of facial hair consisting of side whiskers and a mustache (but clean-shaven chin), 1875 (singular; plural form from 1878; many early uses are in college and university magazines), a reference to U.S. Army Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside (1824-1881) of Civil War fame, who wore them and inspired the style. Compare sideburns.

  • Mutton chop is from 1720; as a style of side whiskers, from 1865.


  • Burnside was noted for his unusual facial hair, joining strips of hair in front of his ears to his mustache but with chin clean-shaven; the word burnsides was coined to describe this style. The syllables were later reversed to give sideburns.


Why sideburns are named as they are:

  • It turns out, despite this particular brand of facial hair style being around as far back as at least 100 BC (with one of the earliest known instances being in a mosaic of Alexander the Great), sideburns were named after a specific man in the late 19th century.

  • The man was politician, businessman, and Union Army General, Ambrose Burnside. Burnside sported a slightly unusual facial hair style with particularly prominent “mutton chop” sideburns connected to a moustache, while keeping his chin shaved perfectly clean.

  • While an extremely poor General, something he himself was well aware of, Burnside’s popularity as a General and later politician, in combination with the fairly unique formation of his whiskers, helped start something of a new facial hair trend. Around the 1870s-1880s, this gave rise to this facial hair style being named “burnsides”.

  • Within a few years of this, the facial hair down the side of one’s cheeks, rather than being called “mutton chops” as it was at the time in some regions, began being called a modification of “burnsides”, “sideburns”, with the first documented instance of this being in 1887. Presumably the shift was from the fact that this part of the “burnsides” facial hair style was on the sides of the face- and of course, leaving the “burns” part in in homage to the aforementioned style.

  • Shortly after “sideburns” popped up, an alternate “sideboards” also made > - its debut, with “boards” thought to have been shortened from “border”, so essentially “side-boarder”, which is a fitting description of the style.


enter image description here mutton chops style

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