Tag Archives: 1850s


Both candidates for president in 1852-Democrat Franklin Pierce and Whig Winfield Scott-served as generals in the Mexican War, which should have given them equally solid commander-in-chief credentials. Scott supporters didn’t think so. They questioned Pierce’s record, mockingly nicknaming him the Fainting General because he once fainted during battle and had to be carried off the field. The Whigs implied that he passed out from cowardice, ignoring the fact that his leg was severely injured. They drove home their point by publishing a one-inch-high book titled “The Military Service of General Pierce.”


This putdown first gained popularity in the 1850s as a way to show a lack of awe toward the powerful. The term is borrowed from Chinook Jargon, a trading language used by Pacific Northwest tribes during the nineteenth century. Muckamuck means food or provisions and the phrase hiu muckamuck translates roughly as “plenty to eat.” English-speaking Americans adopted a slightly mangled version as slang for a “big shot,” possibly with the idea that having plenty of provisions translates into wealth and power. Politicians who needed taking down a peg were soon being sarcastically labeled “high muckamucks.” The label is still occasionally heard today, and still works just as well.