Lookups spiked 30,000% on December 9, 2018
Slumgullion was among our top lookups on December 9th, 2018, after the broadcast of the 1947 film It Happened on Fifth Avenue, in which slumgullion (meaning “a beef stew”) plays a starring role (a character waxes nostalgic about his former wife, who “made the finest slumgullion in the whole state”).
Slumgullion in the film may refer to a stew, but the word may also be defined in a number of other ways, most of which match the expectations brought about by a word that is spelled the way that slumgullion is spelled. It may mean “an insipid drink,” “the mixed blood, oil, and salt water that collect on the decks of a ship while the valuable parts of a whale are being handled,” or “a usually red muddy deposit in mining sluices.” The “beef stew” sense is the one most commonly (and occasionally metaphorically) used today.
No one is certain where slumgullion comes from. Although it had long been thought that Mark Twain coined the word (it occurs in his 1872 novel Roughing It, referring to a beverage), slumgullion may be found prior to this. There are several reports from the 1850s of a town called Slumgullion Bar, and by the early 1860s we see evidence of the word used in the sense of some sort of drink.
“Ground Hog Glory,” California, is in some danger of not being left alone in its glory. “Slumgullion Bar” is a competitor for supremacy in the ridiculous, so far as names are concerned.”
— Boston Evening Transcript, 6 May, 1853
A dank, fresh-fishy smell pervades the atmosphere; and such houses as were open to public view bore evident signs of inundation on the walls and ‘slumgullion’ on the floors.
— The Illustrated London News (London, Eng.), 29 Mar. 1862
Aides are tossing around metaphors to describe the means by which other bills could find their way into the spending package. The last train leaving the station. Final ornaments on the Christmas tree. “A big slumgullion of legislation,” Mr. Whitehouse offered.
— Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Emily Cochrane, The New York Times, 9 Dec. 2018
Trend Watch is a data-driven report on words people are looking up at much higher search rates than normal. While most trends can be traced back to the news or popular culture, our focus is on the lookup data rather than the events themselves.