What is the origin of the phrase "clear as mud”?

According to the AHD it is a humorous expression from the 19th century. Does anyone have more information about it?

Murky, obscure, totally unclear, as in The translation of these directions is clear as mud. This ironic phrase always indicates that something is far from clear. [Early 1800s ]

  • The origin is indistinct.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 21:02
  • 1
    Unsupported comments and answers in comments are not recommended course of action on ELU
    – user 66974
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 21:12
  • @Mari-LouA - showing a VeryLowRep new user what “show you research” means is as good as saving a potentially good question.
    – user 66974
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 21:28
  • @user5768790 I suspect that hwsolutions may not be asking about its origins, but "why" we say "as clear as mud", when mud is obviously thick and opaque. This type of phrase could either be called litotes or just plain sarcasm.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 12:00

1 Answer 1


Early use of the phrase '(as) clear as mud' seems to have been as an intensifier, as well as with the more recent sense of "not at all clear". Used as an intensifier, the phrase is obsolete, although the shorter phrase 'as mud' continues to be used as an intensifier, and was used as an intensifier before the appearance of 'clear as mud'.

Two appearances of '(as) clear as mud' in 1805, the earliest I could easily find, illustrate the senses. Their effectively simultaneous appearance suggests that the phrase may have been seen, or heard, before 1805.

In the 1805 Rhymes, by Octavius Gilchrist, this humorous verse employs 'clear as mud' as an intensifier, following on earlier use of 'as mud' as an intensifier:

And proves by argument (d'ye see)
'Tis clear as mud — that A's not B.

In the same year, 1805, the play John Bull, by George Colman, employs the phrase in the more contemporary sense of "not at all clear":

Frank. Damn it, fellow, don't trifle, but tell your story; and, if you can, intelligibly.
Dennis. Don't be bothering my brains, then, or you'll get it as clear as mud.

That the shorter phrase 'as mud' saw earlier use as an intensifier is attested by, for example, this couplet from the 1763 Rodondo, by Hugh Dalrymple:

What tell you me of British Blood?
I buy it just as cheap as Mud.

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