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Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Jul 28, 2010 7:07 am

In the posting slipshod & down at the heels, it was found that the shod in slipshod originally had to do with shoes, and that slipshod came to mean ‘of poor quality, shabby, inferior, etc.’ And it would seem reasonable to assume that the word shoddy (as in ‘shoddy’ workmanship), which means the same thing – at least in the senses I am familiar with – is just a shortening/variation of slipshod, with both ultimately tracing their origin back to ‘shoes.’ Of course, if that were the case, it would hardly be worth a posting to talk about it. But, surprisingly, it turns out that their origins appear to be entirely unrelated, with the ultimate origin of this shoddy being listed as the abominable origin unknown. Nevertheless, I did find its pre-ultimate-origin material interesting.

Before I get into the grubby details, here is a crisp set of definitions from the AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY:

SHODDY adjective [[appears to be regarded as Standard English and not slang]]

1. Made of or containing inferior material.

2. a) Of poor quality of craft. b) Rundown; shabby.

3. Dishonest or reprehensible: shoddy business practices.

4. Conspicuously and cheaply imitative.

SHODDY noun (plural shoddies) [[regarded as Standard English]]

1. a) Woolen yarn made from scraps or used clothing, with some new wool added. b) Cloth made from or containing such yarn.

2. Something of inferior quality; a cheap imitation.


I cannot tell a lie. The only definitions I was aware of were ‘shabby’ and ‘of poor quality.’


SHODDY: Civil War suppliers cheated the Union Army with a cheap uniform cloth called “shoddy,” which literally unraveled on the wearer’s back—and added a new adjective to the language.


And here are the pontifications of the redoubtable OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY:


1) (1832]: Woollen yarn obtained by tearing to shreds refuse woollen rags, which, with the addition of some new wool, is made into a kind of cloth.

2) [1847] A cloth composed of shoddy wool; more fully shoddy cloth.

3) [1862] transferred and figurative: Worthless material made to look like what is of superior quality; what is worthless and pretentious in art, manufactures, ideas, etc.; the class of persons characterized by the endeavour to pass for something superior to what they really are, with respect to wealth, birth, culture, or refinement. Also (U.S.), a ‘shoddy’ person.

The adjective can often be inferred from the noun, but there are some shades of difference, so I’ll include them here:

1) [1862] adjective: Of a person: That pretends to a superiority to which he has no just claim; said especially of those who claim, on the ground of wealth, a social station or a degree of influence to which they are not entitled by character or breeding. In the U.S. the word seems to have been first used with reference to those who made fortunes by army contracts at the time of the Civil War, it being alleged that the clothing supplied by the contractors consisted largely of shoddy.

2) [1882] adjective: Of a thing: Having a delusive appearance of superior quality. Also, cheap, inferior; displaying signs of use, shabby, dilapidated.

3) [1864] adjective: Of, pertaining to or dealing in shoddy goods.

4) [1918] adjective: Of behaviour, etc.: ungenerous, dishonourable; contemptible. [[added in the OED's December 2004 update]]

It is interesting that CASSELL’S DICTIONARY OF SLANG only discusses one of the above adjective meanings and that is probably because it considers it to be the only slang meaning (the others being Standard English).

SHODDY adjective [mid-late 19th century] (U.S.) : Used of those who either claim a degree of importance to which they have no actual right or of nouveaux riches, whose importance is not backed up by breeding or manners; thus shoddydom, the world of social climbers; as a noun, shoddies, shoddyites, shoddy aristocracy, shoddy society, shoddy(o)cracy. [from Standard English, shoddy, a woolen yarn obtained by tearing to shreds refuse woolen rags, which with the addition of some new wool, is made into a kind of cloth; thus, worthless material that is made to appear as if it boasts a high quality. The slang use was underlined after the U.S. Civil War (1861-5), when fortunes were made by the sellers of shoddy, who then attempted to use their money to enter society.]

Here are a few quotes from the OED illustrating each of their above four adjectival definitions:

<1863 “There are shoddy lawyers, shoddy doctors, . . . shoddy husbands and shoddy wives, and, worse than all, there are shoddy newspapers whose especial business it is to puff up all the shoddy in the world and endeavor to make the people believe that it is the genuine article.”—Boston Sunday Herald, 15 February, [age 2/3>

<1865 “Those who have become rich by swindling the United States Government during the Civil War compose the ‘shoddy’ aristocracy.”—The Reader, 8 July, page 36>
<1891 “When they built the shoddy cottages away down the hill–mere traps to catch rent.”—Our Fields & Cities in the South Carolina Scivener, page 16>

<1952 “Because Stevenson was the man to beat, and Kefauver was their man, they had to fall back on the shoddy pretence that Stevenson was the tool of the big city machines.”—Manchester Guardian Weekly (Manchester, England), 31 July, page 7/2>
<1895 “Nor is the furniture unworthy of the room . . . There is no shoddy antique about this.”—Surrey by F. Barrett, viii. page 194>

<1864 “Some shoddy upholsterer has here evidently had carte blanche, and the result is . . . gaudy ugliness.”—G. A. Sala in Daily Telegraph 26 February>
<1918 “Putting shoddy into the uniforms sure is shoddy treatment for the soldiers.”—Bridgeport Telegram (Connecticut), 15 January, page 12/1>

<1940 “Brown did not cross the river at all. Worse, he sent no word to Ethan that he had failed to do so. It was shoddy treatment.”—Ethan Allen by H.Holbrook, vi. page 109>

<1964 It ought to be preserved . . . as an example to those who scar the game by shoddy behaviour, for there was not a single ill-mannered act from first to last.”—The Times (London), 30 November,page 4/4>

<1988 The shoddy way in which Stafford had treated him at the end.”—Jean Stafford by D. Roberts, xix. Page 403>

Ken G – July 27, 2010

Re: shoddy

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Jul 28, 2010 9:50 am

You didn't come across MUNGO in your trawl through your library then Ken? I found THIS SITE from a town not too far from where my moiety hails which talks about both mungo and shoddy.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: shoddy

Post by christinecornwall » Fri Jul 30, 2010 4:40 am

I have to laugh because my students think 'shoddy' is an affectionate term for a girl, Justin Bieber style!

Re: shoddy

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Jul 31, 2010 12:02 am

Apparently, it is the practice of at least one Yorkshire-based rhubarb-growing company to strew shredded shoddy (waste obtained from local woollen mills) on their outdoor crops. The slow release of nitrogen over, I think the Country Tracks clip stated, the three years the rhubarb takes to grow, has been found to be optimal.

Re: shoddy

Post by tony h » Sun Aug 01, 2010 12:02 am

Signature: tony

I'm puzzled therefore I think.

Re: shoddy

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Aug 04, 2010 6:57 am

bobinwales wrote: You didn't come across MUNGO in your trawl through your library then Ken?
Bob, Actually I didn't. But here is the yarn on MUNGO anyway.

If you read the definitions of SHODDY and MUNGO you might get the impression that they are synonyms. They are almost synonyms, but no cigar.


SHODDY noun: A fibrous material obtained by shredding unfelted rags or waste. Cf. mungo

MUNGO noun: A low-grade wool from felted rags or waste. Cf. shoddy

Three things to notice: SHODDY says “obtained by shredding ‘unfelted’ rags, whereas MUNGO says “from ‘felted’ rags. And each Cf.s the other (Cf. doesn’t mean they are synonyms, but means compare the two). Also, in my above posting SHODDY referred to wool rags, wool yarn, and wool cloth.

FELT noun: A nonwoven fabric of wool, fur, or hair, matted together by heat, moisture, and great pressure.

So there is a difference between the two. And for a bit more detail here’s what the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY had to say:

SHODDY: 1) [1832] Woollen yarn obtained by tearing to shreds refuse woollen rags, which, with the addition of some new wool, is made into a kind of cloth. 2) [1847] A cloth composed of shoddy wool; more fully shoddy cloth. [[See my above posting for further definitions of shoddy, the yarn, and shoddy, the cloth]]

MUNGO noun [1857]: Fibres produced by shredding old woven or felted material; inferior cloth made from such fibres. Frequently attributive. Cf. shoddy noun [Origin uncertain; perhaps from mung [[A mingling, a mixture; a confusion, a mess]] + - o[/i]. suffix. The (fictitious) story commonly told to account for the word is that when the first sample of the article was made, the foreman said ‘It won't go’, to which the master replied ‘But it mun go’ (i.e. must go).]
<1860 “The principal part of a rag machine is the swift . . . ; the coarser set swifts are used to grind soft rags into shoddy; the finer set ones, to tear cloth rags into mungo.”—History of the Shoddy-Trade by S. Jubb, page 19>

<1875 “Mingo is even a shorter description of fibre, and is made in the same way as shoddy] from old rags.”—Encyclopedia Britannica

<1961 “Mungo, the poorest grade of shoddy, being that obtained from rags, etc., and from materials which have been felted.”— Dictionary of Dyeing and Textile Printing by Blackshaw & Brightman, page116> [saying ‘mungo’ is a subset of ‘shoddy’]

<1973 “Fiercer mechanical action is needed to disintegrate hard rags and the material obtained from them is ‘mungo’ containing many short fibres.”—Materials & Technology, VI. iii. page 246>

<2000 “She comes from Batley, among the shoddy and mungo mills.”—The Times (London), 7 October, page 23/2>
Well Bob, I’m certainly glad we got that cleared up. Now I know approximately what the difference between SHODDY and MUNGO is (i.e. felted, unfelted, wool rags, soft rags, hard rags, any rags, waste, short fibers, long fibers, mungo a type of shoddy . . .). And you just never know when someone is going to walk up to you in the street and ask if you know the difference between the two, approximately.

Ken –August 3, 2010

Re: shoddy

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Aug 04, 2010 11:39 am

Ken Greenwald wrote:And you just never know when someone is going to walk up to you in the street and ask if you know the difference between the two, approximately.
If they do, I will reply "I mun go now".
Signature: -- Looking up a word? Try OneLook's metadictionary (--> definitions) and reverse dictionary (--> terms based on your definitions)8-- Contribute favourite diary entries, quotations and more here8 -- Find new postings easily with Active Topics8-- Want to research a word? Get essential tips from experienced researcher Ken Greenwald

Re: shoddy

Post by Shelley » Wed Aug 04, 2010 6:28 pm

Ken Greenwald wrote:
bobinwales wrote: You didn't come across MUNGO in your trawl through your library then Ken?
Bob, Actually I didn't. . . .
You might have reefed Wordwizard -- "mungo" rang a little bell for me!

Re: shoddy

Post by Wizard of Oz » Fri Aug 06, 2010 5:46 am

.. you got in before me Shelley .. I was just about to wax lyrical about ther Aussie meaning of mungo and we find it was posted by some WoZ bloke in 2006 ..

.. for a bit of worldly completeness to Ken's quotes ..
The Station, Otago Witness ((NZ)), Issue 1508, 9 October 1880, Page 7
The Woollen Industry may be said to work up at present (besides shoddy and mungo) about three and a-half times as much wool as at the beginning of this century.
.. and I did notice that in the wool producing Colonies the use of mungo and shoddy was not well received ..

WoZ who has always been a bit shoody around the edges
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

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