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[muhg-ing] /ˈmʌg ɪŋ/
an assault or threat of violence upon a person, especially with intent to rob.
Origin of mugging
1840-50; mug + -ing1


[muhg] /mʌg/
a drinking cup, usually cylindrical in shape, having a handle, and often of a heavy substance, as earthenware.
the quantity it holds.
  1. the face.
  2. the mouth.
  3. an exaggerated facial expression; grimace, as in acting.
  4. a thug, ruffian, or other criminal.
British Slang. a gullible person; dupe; fool.
verb (used with object), mugged, mugging.
to assault or menace, especially with the intention of robbery.
Slang. to photograph (a person), especially in compliance with an official or legal requirement.
verb (used without object), mugged, mugging.
Slang. to grimace; exaggerate a facial expression, as in acting.
1560-70; probably < Scandinavian; compare Swedish mugg, Norwegian, Danish mugge drinking cup; sense “face” apparently transferred from cups adorned with grotesque faces; sense “to assault” from earlier pugilistic slang “to strike in the face, fight”
Can be confused
burglarize, mug, rip off, rob, steal (see synonym study at rob) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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Examples from the Web for mugging
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • I do know a certain amount about harmony already; I have been mugging it up for the last three years.

    Michael E. F. Benson
  • Perhaps I have been mugging it up as a preliminary to coming out here.

    The Sign of the Spider Bertram Mitford
  • "mugging" was all right, so long as you "mugged" the right persons.

    Courts and Criminals Arthur Train
  • I hear from Mr Cookson that you have been mugging lately, just as I have.

    Dr. Jolliffe's Boys Lewis Hough
  • They were chortling, pointing at each other, mugging for the camera.

    Makers Cory Doctorow
British Dictionary definitions for mugging


a drinking vessel with a handle, usually cylindrical and made of earthenware
Also called mugful. the quantity held by a mug or its contents
Word Origin
C16: probably from Scandinavian; compare Swedish mugg


(slang) a person's face or mouth: get your ugly mug out of here!
(slang) a grimace
(Brit, slang) a gullible person, esp one who is swindled easily
a mug's game, a worthless activity
verb mugs, mugging, mugged
(transitive) (informal) to attack or rob (someone) violently
(intransitive) (Brit, slang) to pull faces or overact, esp in front of a camera
See also mug up
Word Origin
C18: perhaps from mug1, since drinking vessels were sometimes modelled into the likeness of a face
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for mugging

"violent physical attack," 1846, verbal noun from mug (v.1). As "grimmacing, making faces," 1937, from mug (v.2).



"drinking vessel," 1560s, "bowl, pot, jug," of unknown origin, perhaps from Scandinavian (cf. Swedish mugg "mug, jug," Norwegian mugge "pitcher, open can for warm drinks"), or Low German mokke, mukke "mug," also of unknown origin.

"a person's face," 1708, possibly from mug (n.1), on notion of drinking mugs shaped like grotesque faces. Sense of "portrait or photograph in police records (e.g. mug shot, 1950) had emerged by 1887. Hence, also, "a person" (especially "a criminal"), 1890.


"to beat up," 1818, originally "to strike the face" (in pugilism), from mug (n.2). The general meaning "attack" is first attested 1846, and "attack to rob" is from 1864. Perhaps influenced by thieves' slang mug "dupe, fool, sucker" (1851). Related: Mugged; mugging.

"make exaggerated facial expressions," 1855, originally theatrical slang, from mug (n.2). Related: Mugged; mugging.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for mugging



  1. The face: showing so unperturbed a face, so impudent a ''mug'' (1708+)
  2. A photograph of the face; mug shot: a police mug, front and profile (1887+)
  3. A man; fellow, esp a tough, rude sort or a pugilist or hoodlum: Those mugs on the corner seem menacing (1895+)


  1. To photograph a person's face, esp for police records: When crooks are photographed they are ''mugged'' (1899+)
  2. To make exaggerated faces, grimaces, etc, for humorous effect: while Danny mugs through his program (1855+)
  3. To assault and injure someone in the course of a robbery: The victims were mugged in the hallways of their homes (1818+)

[probably fr drinking mugs made to resemble grotesque human faces; the sense of violent assault comes fr mid-1800s British specialization of the term ''rob by violent strangulation,'' probably fr mug-hunter, ''a thief who seeks out victims who are mugs'' (easy marks)]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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