“Mum” is a Middle English word meaning “silent”.
The word may be derived from the “mmm” sound made when one tries to speak with lips closed.
The full expression, first attested in 1700, is thought to be based on a line in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2:
“Seal up your lips and give no words but mum.”
This is the widely prevalant explanation of the phrase Mum’s the Word. It seems to have come from here has been cut and pasted across a number of other websites. And now I join the list.
See, there is a reason I went searching for the origin of the phrase on Google.
I’m a New Mum and never, ever, have I received so much advice in so little time. From complete strangers to close family the ‘sport’ is a free-for-all. Literally. I mean it’s free for all to give advice to me. There are some exceptionally sensitive people who have given advice in exceptionally senstitive ways but there has been no slacking off on the whole advice giving sport.
So I knew that ‘Mum’ would probably have very little to do with a phrase that meant “silent”. The word Mum loosens tongues faster than any poison alcohol potion I know. Mum actually gets people talking.
The upside to this can be quite rewarding. I’ve been given entry into an elite club. Right from when I became obviously pregnant I’ve been privy to this club, this women’s club. The members know about all the backaches, the heartburn, the sore breasts, the sleepless nights that come with a pregnancy.
That was one club.
Of course, pushing a basinette around, I was part of a bigger, more secretive club. The ones of back aches, sleepless nights, sore breasts but also one where members valued nap-time, got paid in gummy grins and invested heavily in relationships. We exchange sympathetic glances when our charges wake up at inopportune times and set up a wailing. We make way when one of us is pushing the pram and making a dash for the parents’ room. We understand why, even with the fanciest pram, children just have to be held sometimes. We can talk for hours about how much weight was gained and when. How long our charges slept and when. How long they fed and when. We live by the clock, just not the regular one.
This club is special.
This is the mommy club.
This is the club where — as far as advice goes — Mum’s certainly not the word.