Welcome to the Wordlady blog!

This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
You can also order my best-selling books, Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to do With Pigs and Only in Canada You Say. Fun and informative!

Subscribe!

Subscribe! Fun facts about English delivered weekly right to your inbox. IT'S FREE! Fill in your email address below.
Privacy policy: we will not sell, rent, or give your name or address to anyone. You can unsubscribe at any point.

Follow by email

Search This Blog

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Riots and kangaroos

 

I can't think why, but this week I have decided to talk about the word "mob", a disorderly or riotous crowd, a rabble.

Surprisingly, this is etymologically an abbreviation, its origin being classical Latin mōbile vulgus (the changeable common people, the fickle crowd). In the 1600s "mobile vulgus" came into English, but very quickly it was being abbreviated to "mobile" and thence to "mob". 

The essayist Joseph Addison was not a fan of such truncation:


1711   J. Addison Spectator No. 135. ⁋10   It is perhaps this Humour of speaking no more than we needs must which has so miserably curtailed some of our Words,..as in mob. rep. pos. incog. and the like.

Addison's usage objections had as much success as these things usually do, and by 1800 "mob" had pretty much supplanted its parents "mobile" and "mobile vulgus". 

Meanwhile, English migrated to Australia, where "mob" had a resounding success acquiring new meanings there and in New Zealand.

(definitions from the Macquarie Dictionary of Australian-specific meanings).

noun 1. b. Colloquial a group of people, as friends, not necessarily large: we'll invite the mob over for Saturday night.

an Australian friend of mine tells me that she thinks this is now an older-generation usage.

c.  a group of workers: a mob of shearers.

2.  a collection of animals 

In both Australia and New Zealand people refer to "mobs of sheep" as well as "flocks" and "mobs of cattle" as well as "herds".

My favourite of these usages, though, is that "mob" has become the standard collective noun for kangaroos. 

 There are birds aplenty to enjoy, plus animals including a mob of kangaroos bounding around a cemetery in Perth

There's a useful trivia question for  you!

5. 
a. Aboriginal English an Aboriginal tribe or language group,
extended family or community: all my mob; the Big River mob.

 
b.  a community, whether related by kinship, geography, special interest, etc.: the Newcastle mob; the Music Society mob.

Then there is the very cute

6.  a group or unit of Joey Scouts in the Scout Association.

I love "Joey Scouts"! It is parallel to our 5-7-year-old "Beavers" (also cute) in North America.  

If only a gang of kangaroos or cute mini boy scouts had been the ones to invade the US Congress this week!

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

*From the photographer: These two wild wallabies are actually testing each other’s strength, like an arm wrestle, but I like the photo because they look like they are dancing, perhaps a waltz. This species is known as the agile wallaby, and the photo is taken in North Queensland, Australia.

 

**If you receive these posts in your inbox, clicking on "Wordlady" at the top will take you to the blog where you can comment or view other posts. 

About Me

My photo
Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.