I was going through unposted posts the other day – detritus from my phase incommunicado. Most of them were gravely disappointing, but I did find this (I’ll get back to Stevenson-proper soon, onist injun) –
A hiatus in the Idiot and the Dog’s affairs has meant the ongoing peripatetic and trivial analysis of Stevenson has fallen by the wayside for the moment. However, offering something half-baked or jejune is better than offering nothing at all, just as if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing as quickly as possible so we can all get down the pub. So:
In one of Stevenson’s letters (Vol 1 of the Mehew edition, Letter [can’t now remember which letter – more evidence of my terrible notetaking – I’ll find out, promise]) Stevenson finds himself in a railway carriage with an eccentric old man;
I addressed to him some remarks on the subject of the weather; but he appeared completely shut up by the novelty of my views on the subject, as he said no more till the end of our journey. By dwelling upon this subject, it seems that his mind, too weak to grapple with such subjects, became entirely deranged; for he suddenly began to talk aloud to himself and to snap his fingers, and to nod his head in an encouraging manner. At first I expected to be Mullered; but the journey ended too soon and I was rescued.
There is a footnote –
Franz Muller murdered Thomas Briggs in a London railways carriage in July 1864. He attempted to escape to America but was arrested on arrival in New York. The case excited great public interest.
This gave me to contemplate the word ‘mullered’ (pronounced as in the German – mʊllered, or müllered if you will).
In our contemporary English society, where we uphold the fine tradition of celebrating Liberty by going out and getting gut-bustingly drunk, getting mullered means to get very very pissed and is one of those words used to designate a debilitating self-imposed attack upon the senses and nervous system through excessive consumption of alcohol.
‘I was well mullered last night,’ for instance. (See also – brace yourselves ladies – arseholed, twatted, fucked, smashed, mashed, lashed, the aforementioned pissed, blitzed, cunted, wrecked, slaughtered, and the memorable occasion when my brother, in answer to a question from my mother as to where he was going, said, ‘I’m going out to get damaged.’ And people wonder why our town centres are in a state.)
Anyway – whence, I wondered, this word. Could it have continued from Stevenson’s time? Or was it a coincidental modern version?
The Internet asserted vaguely that it was possibly adapted from Gerd Müller, the prolific German striker of the ’70s, known for his strikes of prodigious power into the back of the net – thus, ‘Cor, did you see ‘im hoof that ball? He well müllered it‘ (actual usage), or from the popular tabloid cliche of the Mad Mullah, used conveniently to label any Middle Eastern religious leader who happened to enter the public consciousness. In fact interestingly, since I thought it was a ’70s/80s thing, Wikipedia suggests that this term was first used about Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, who was around at the turn of the 19th century.
To get back to the point in hand; neither of those explanations seemed to carry any sort of weight of authority behind them. Not that you can necessarily expect such certainty in this sort of area, but still, I felt the quarry had not yet been run to ground. That latter derivation from the Mad Mullah seemed most unlikely.
The idea that it originated from the verb ‘to muller’, to beat or pound (as in a muller – the vessel in which mulled wine was made) was tempting but foundered on the rocks of pronunciation – sounds like ‘to mull over’ don’t you know. Müller might go to muller, (and indeed did, see below) but surely not the other way round.
A dictionary of modern slang was not much use, telling me only that Mullah was a Dublin slang term for any Irishman not from Dublin. A new one on me.
Time to pull out the OED –
müller – also muller [f. the name of Franz Müller, a murderer, who was convicted in 1864 on circumstantial evidence in which a hat was of considerable significance]. To alter (a hat) in the manner alleged to have been done by Franz Müller. Also as sb., a type of flat-topped felt hat similar to that associated with Müller.
1864 in Farmer & Henly Slang (1896) IV .384/1 In a small shop not from from Sloane-square, Chelsea, may be seen the following tasteful announcement: Hats muller’d here.
1909 Daily Chron. 22 Nov. 4/7 Müller’s hat … formed the connectcing link in a remarkable chain of circumstantial evidence. Henceforth ‘mullers’, as they were called, were tabooed.
Note that they don’t actually have the definition as used by Stevenson – that is to be attacked in such a way. Well, and what of it? On the whole I’m inclined to go with the Gerd Müller version, mainly because I find it slightly unlikely that the pronounciation would have been preserved over all these years, and also, well the source feels more likely for your lager swilling hoolie such as wot I is. That’s no guarantee though, I mean ‘quid’s been in continuous use for centuries innit.
Maybe these chaps will know. After all, they know about hats. And language. Should be a cinch. I don’t know about these things, do I.
Oh, Wikipedia has a nice couple of bits of trivia, if you choose to believe such things (place well above ‘man in pub’ but slightly below ‘scholarly book’, I’d say) –
The murder of Briggs resulted in the establishment of compulsory communication between train passengers and members of the crew. If Briggs had been able to contact the train driver or guard, the murder could have been prevented.
The oddest feature of this first railway murder case in England was its effect on fashion. Muller’s redesign of the hat he took from Briggs became a popular style into the 20th Century, called “the Muller Cut-Down” hat. It was especially popularized by future Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Well, I’m no closer to actually knowing where this word comes from. But the things you learn, eh? The things you learn.
Right, I’m orf down the rub-a-dub-dub for a sniff of the barmaid’s apron. So to speak.