mau-maued; mau-mauing; mau-maus

transitive + intransitive

now often offensive; see usage paragraph below
: to intimidate (someone, such as an official) through hostile confrontation or threats usually for social or political gain
Going downtown to mau-mau the bureaucrats got to be the routine practice in San Francisco.Tom Wolfe
Usage of Mau-Mau

The term mau-mau comes from the name of the Mau Mau, a militant African nationalist movement formed among the Kikuyu people of Kenya in the 1950s to advocate violent resistance to British rule. The English term reflects the historical British version of the actions of the Mau Mau, a version that does not acknowledge the grievances of the Kikuyu or the atrocities committed against them. In current English, mau-mau is used to suggest that a person's efforts and actions stem only from a desire to commit violent acts, or in milder use, to cause disruption or achieve some petty aim. When the term is used of a Black person it is especially likely to be considered offensive.

Word History


Mau Mau, anti-European secret society in colonial Kenya

First Known Use

1970, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of mau-mau was in 1970


Dictionary Entries Near mau-mau

Cite this Entry

“Mau-mau.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jul. 2024.

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