Wednesday, May 27, 2009


A listener asked about the word monger, a once-useful word that seems to have fallen out of favor.

It was used in Old English, though with a different spelling. It appears in a royal charter issued by Aethelwulf, who died in 858. The word came to Old English from the Latin mango, a salesman — in Rome, especially one who sold slaves.

It was often used in compounds that designated the goods handled: cheesemonger, costermonger (apples/fruit), fishmonger, fleshmonger, haymonger, ironmonger, etc. In time, it was applied in an extended sense. From the 16th century on, that sense was often derogatory: ceremony-monger, fashion-monger, news-monger, scandal-monger, war-monger, whore-monger, etc.

Before the word went out of fashion, it was a popular way of forming nonce-words: holy water mongers (Bale), superstition-monger (Twain), hero-monger (The Academy), conference-monger (Shaw), etc.

The word seems to be popular in the names of comic book characters: Fear Monger, Destiny Monger, Spirit Monger, Iron Monger, etc.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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