Why Is A Mug Called a Mug?

Have you ever suddenly thought, “what an odd word, and how on earth did that object get that name?” If you are an English speaker, this probably happens quite often as it is a complicated language with many quirky words. Take, for instance, the word “mug.” Where did this term come from, and why is a mug called a mug?

The word “mug” originated from Scandinavian and German words that were incorporated into English. It refers to a deep drinking utensil with a handle, most commonly used for hot drinks but also sometimes used for alcoholic beverages. Mugs have become a form of self-expression in modern culture.

Where Did The Word Mug Originate?

English is a language that commandeers words from many other languages. Its history is steeped in wars and invasions by different people. Each culture added words to the English language, so it is not surprising that we need to look to foreign shores to find the origins of a word.

The first use of the word “mug” or “mog” was to denote a measure of salt. It was probably a Scandinavian, West German, or Low German word.

In the mid-fifteenth century, Scottish dialects began using the term “mug” to indicate an earthenware bowl. It is unclear whether this bowl had handles and if it was used for drinking or as a container for food. Some mugs in this era were made from bone or wood.

Around 1560 the term mug began to be used for a drinking container or vessel. It probably developed from Scandinavian languages introduced by Viking clan invasions. The Norwegian word “mugge” meant a pitcher or an open can used for warm drinks. The Swedish word “mugg” indicated an earthenware cup or jug.  

What Is A Mug In Current English?

Currently, the word “mug” refers to a cylindrical, straight-sided container that holds fluids and is used for drinking. It has a handle and is typically used for hot drinks such as tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.

Although we tend to think of mugs as used chiefly for hot drinks, they can also be used for cold drinks. Beer is typically drunk from large, thick, chunky mugs.

Modern-day mugs are made from china, glass, ceramic materials, earthenware, enameled metal, stainless steel, and plastic. Travel mugs that can retain heat or cold are considered an essential part of modern life.

Is There A Difference Between Mugs And Cups?

Mugs generally hold more liquid than a cup. Mugs hold eight and a half to twelve fluid ounces (240 to 350 mls). Cups traditionally contain a maximum of eight fluid ounces (237mls).

Cups are regarded as more appropriate for formal occasions. They are always used with a saucer, whereas mugs are seldom used with a saucer. Mugs are considered to be more informal.

In certain cultures, cups and saucers are considered the only acceptable drinking utensil for formal occasions. In Britain and countries where social strata are emphasized, mugs are strictly for casual use.

In countries where social class differentiation is less clear, and customs are becoming more informal, mugs are becoming widely accepted in all circles.

What Role Do Mugs Play In Modern Culture?

Mugs have an interesting role in modern society. It has become acceptable to give mugs as a gift. You rarely find a solitary cup being offered as a gift.

Mugs may be used to send a message of affection, reminding the person every time the mug is used that they have a loved one.

In addition, mugs may be used as a form of self-expression by a quote or picture printed on the side. Mugs are often personalized with photographs of family or pets. They are the only eating or drinking utensil that fulfills this role in society.   

What Other Words Mean The Same As Mug?

Some other English words may be used instead of mug. As is typical with English, each word also has its nuances, which slightly alter the meaning.

  • Tankard and flagon essentially mean the same as mug. English first language speakers know that tankard and flagon are used exclusively for alcoholic drinks. You may say you have a beer mug, but you never say you have a coffee tankard or tea flagon.
  • Some people use mug and cup interchangeably in everyday speech, but if asked, they would know the two are not exactly the same. English users understand there is a difference. Some even prefer to drink tea from a cup, but coffee from a mug.
  • A jar, pint pot, or pot are slang words that may refer to a mug. These terms refer to mugs used for alcoholic beverages, specifically beer.

What Are Some Other Meanings For Mug?

Mug is used as a slang word for a face. In the seventeenth and eighteenth-century mugs were made with cartoon faces on the side. These were caricatured faces and could not be described as pretty.

As a result, the term “mug” came into use for describing a face with the implication that it was a less than pleasant face. It was used in a derogatory fashion – for example, “Get your ugly mug out of here,” or “he has a homely mug.”

This was carried into informal use in the police world, where the term “mug-shot” was used to describe the official police photograph of a criminal.

Around 1818 the expression “mugging” was first used to indicate hitting or slapping someone in the face. It was initially used in this way in boxing circles in the late seventeenth century.

By 1846 “mugging” had come to mean violently attacking someone with the aim of robbing them. It was probably first used in thieves’ cant and spread from there into general public use.


The term “mug” originated from several Germanic languages, which influenced English at the time. It evolved from meaning a measure of salt to a bowl to a deep cylindrical cup that is used for drinking.


Similar Posts