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As my husband and I were watching a woman speak on TV, we were both distracted by the fact that the movements of her lower jaw seemed extraneous to the pronunciation of the words she spoke. I informed him that the term for that particular affectation was "muckle-mouthed". Then, I realized I had no idea why I was so certain of this. I looked it up and the references all point to an observance of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, ch 11:

She was sort of muckle-mouthed. I mean when she was talking and she got excited about something, her mouth sort of went in about fifty directions, her lips and all.

Is this an invention of J.D. Salinger, or was he borrowing a regionalism,maybe? Does anyone know of a prior use/definition to Salinger?

  • Thanks, but I'm looking more for common usage than etymology. – Oldbag Mar 6 '17 at 12:04
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    If you are asking if 'mickle-mouthed', in addition to just referring to a large mouth, also refers to 'movements of her lower jaw ... extraneous to the pronunciation of the words she spoke', then I think the answer is that there is no such evidence for that. Not that it's not right but that there is no corroborating evidence so far. – Mitch Mar 8 '17 at 15:47
  • Yes, Mitch, that's what I'm wondering. – Oldbag Mar 10 '17 at 13:03
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    I'm not sure there is a common usage. Nobody I know or watch on television says it, as far as I can tell. Sounds like something an old bag would say. ;-) – user83454 Mar 11 '17 at 19:50
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    @Ringo- Arr-Arr. (Old people's version of LOL.) – Oldbag Mar 11 '17 at 20:37
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+50

The Language of Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (1984) says the muckle-mouthed means "talkative, garrulous".


"Muckle mouthed" did not originate from Salinger.

There was a historical person "Muckle-Mouthed Meg".

From Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey, by Washington Irving, 1835:

unfortunately, the young lady was hideously ugly, with a mouth from ear to ear, so that not a suitor was to be had for her either for love or money, and she was known throughout the border country by the name of Muckle-mouthed Meg.

See also the 1829 Tales of a Grandfather: Being Stories Taken from Scottish History:

You must therefore do a wiser thing, and, instead of hanging him, we will cause him to marry our youngest daughter, Meg with the meikle mouth, without any tocher

According to a genealogy she was:

Agnes "Muckle mou’d Meg" Murray of Elibank,

wife of Sir William Scott of Harden.

She was born in 1601.

On the other hand, a 5 September 1875 article titled Muckle-Mouthed Meg argues that the story isn't true.

However there is google document titled The Marriage Contract (14 July 1611) of Agnes Murray ("Muckle-mou'd Meg") (daughter of Sir Gideon Murray of Elibank, Treasurer-Depute of Scotland, 1612-21) and William Scott (son of "Auld Wat" Scott O' Harden, the Famous Scottish Border Reiver)

The only library copy seems to be at University of Glasgow.


Aside from Muckle Mouthed Meg, there is a line in The Last Rhyme of True Thomas (1894) by Rudyard Kipling :

I make honor wi' muckle mouth

(This poem refers to the real person Thomas the Rhymer who live long before Muckle Mouthed Meg)


Then, in 1944, shortly before Catcher in the Rye was written, in A spy for Mr. Crook:

After a tense moment the Member for Malvoisin let fly.
"Of all the flannel-footed, hump-backed, ginger-headed, muckle-mouthed, addle-pated sons of orang-outangs," he exploded. "How exactly like the authorities to pick on the wrong man."

So by the time Salinger used the term, it may have deteriorated into a general negative term, rather than the original meaning. In fact, a 1780 dictionary says that "Muckle" was already "Obsolete" and meant "Much".

  • Robert Browning wrote a poem called Muckle-Mouth Meg: Margaret with the Big Mouth in July 1889, quoted in the book The Poetic Works of Robert Browning: Vol XV. The book recounts how Browning heard the story. Poem bit: "Grace for the callant if he marries our Muckle-Mouth Meg." "The callant" is imprisoned; she feeds him; he falls in love. The size of the mouth is emphasized, not its mobility. – Xanne Mar 15 '17 at 2:29
  • Swell research, Dave. Bounty earned. (Although I'm still curious to know if anyone, besides me, has used this term recently.) (Or, ever.) – Oldbag Mar 15 '17 at 14:06
  • @Oldbag I just added another reference saying it means "talkative". More recent examples are "And your muckle-mouthed insurance executive has elevated you to the pinnacle of passion?" (1990) books.google.com/… ; "I'll no' listen to their muckle-mouthed jabbering" (1996) books.google.com/… ; and (continued below) – DavePhD Mar 15 '17 at 14:19
  • "a crazy scarf around her neck, muckle-mouthed and green-eyed, with the wind blowing her hair " (1996) books.google.com/…; "she bugs her eyes out sort of like Mister Rogers when he's just presented some important fact, but at the same time she'd draw down her upper lip like a muckle-mouthed hillbilly" (2004) books.google.com/… – DavePhD Mar 15 '17 at 14:20
  • @Oldbag Yes, they have indeed! As recently as 27 November 2015, the story of Muckle-Mou’d Meg was included in an episode of QI (where they also hypothesise that the man who married Muckle-Mou’ed Meg should have been Tiny-Todger Tony or Wee-Willy Winkie). Though to be fair they weren’t exactly using it the same way you were. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 15 '17 at 16:02
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As a comment notes, muckle is a variant of mickle, which MW defines as Scottish for "great, much."

Oxford Dictionaries defines mickle-mouthed as "having a large mouth," and identifies it as Scottish.

As far as idiomatic usage of muckle-mouthed goes, the Urban Dictionary agrees with you:

Having a crooked or eccentrically shaped mouth that is seemingly rubber-like.

However, it does go on to cite the relevant Catcher in the Rye passage, so it may be somewhat self-referential.

  • Yeah, again, I get the BIG part... My question is if anyone else associates "muckle-mouthed" with someone whose lower jaw seems about to come unhinged while they are speaking. – Oldbag Mar 6 '17 at 12:01
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    I've edited my question to address that. – Gnawme Mar 6 '17 at 17:06
  • Thank you, Gnawme, for your efforts. Hoping there's someone out there who can confirm this usage prior to the publishing of "The Catcher in the Rye". (1951) – Oldbag Mar 6 '17 at 22:35
  • Mickle can mean a large amount or a small amount (although OED claims this is a misunderstanding). Muckle invariably means a large amount. english.stackexchange.com/questions/26765/… – Mike C Mar 8 '17 at 14:20

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