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Why do we say 'Mumbo Jumbo'?

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'She couldn't understand the text, it sounded like mumbo - jumbo.'

Today we take a look at reduplication – the repeating of parts of words to make new forms. Some categories of reduplication include rhyming, such as ‘okey-dokey’ and ‘chick flick’ , exact, such as ‘blah-blah’ and ‘bling-bling’, and ablaut (vowel substitution), such as ‘zig-zag’ and ‘chit-chat’. Very often, the words that make up these idioms have no real meaning in themselves and only appear as part of a pair. English is choc-a-bloc (full of) with these kinds of phrases, so, with no further dilly-dallying (waiting around), let’s get down to the nitty-gritty (the basics).


Why do we say “Mumbo-Jumbo”?

Anything described as mumbo-jumbo is nonsense and meaningless, particularly when referring to speech, although it was originally associated with religious ritual which wasn’t quite genuine and seemed to be more for show than anything else. The phrase originated from the Mandingo word Maamajomboo, which was a masked dancer that took part in religious ceremonies. In the 18th century, Mumbo-jumbo referred to a West African god. Although hints of obvious racial stereotyping may have been present when the phrase was first coined, today it is perfectly politically correct!


'I couldn't understand what that lawyer was saying. I wish they would speak proper English and not just mumbo - jumbo'!


Can you give us an example of when you migt hear mumbo-jumbo? Add your comments below!