It seems to be Breadstuffs Weekend. Yesterday, breadsticks. Today, muffins.

Today started with a photo from London, posted on Facebook by Steven Levine:


Steven’s comment:

Excuse me, I’m looking for a guy who lives here who calls himself “the muffin man”. Do you know him?

Yes: Do you know the muffin man?

From Wikipedia:

“The Muffin Man” is a traditional nursery rhyme or children’s song of English origin.

The most widely known lyrics:

Do [or “Oh, do”] you know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Do you know the muffin man,
Who lives in Drury Lane?

Yes [or “Oh, yes”], I know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Yes, I know the muffin man,
Who lives in Drury Lane.

… The rhyme is first recorded in a British manuscript of around 1820 preserved in the Bodleian Library with lyrics very similar to those used today

… Victorian households had many of their fresh foods delivered; muffins would be delivered door-to-door by a muffin man. The “muffin” in question was the bread product known in the United States as English muffins, not the much sweeter cupcake-shaped American variety. Drury Lane is a thoroughfare bordering Covent Garden in London.

… Iona and Peter Opie observed that, although the rhyme had remained fairly consistent, the game associated with it has changed at least three times including: as a forfeit game, a guessing game and a dancing ring.

Lots of variation here. The tune is varied in a number of ways, and there are small alterations in the text: in particular, some renditions have relativizer that rather than who, and a great many shift the British in Drury Lane to the American on Drury Lane. The muffin man is usually depicted as a baker, but sometimes as a muffin that’s a man, as in this sticker with a superhero Muffin Man:


(Some anthropomorphic Muffin Men are evil rather than heroic.)

Modern depictions nearly always have American-style muffins (as in #2), which are known in the UK as well as the US, but early British depictions were of course of the breadstuff, as in this etching London Cries: A Muffin Man by Paul Sandby (c. 1759):


The word muffin. OED3 (March 2003) declares its origin uncertain and gives the following history:

Originally (now Brit. regional): any of various kinds of bread or cake. Now: spec. (in N. Amer. generally known as English muffin) a small, flat, cake made from yeast batter and cooked on a hotplate, usually eaten split, toasted, and spread with butter, jam, etc., esp. for breakfast or tea. [first cite from 1703, spelled moofin; then from 1747, spelled muffing; from further cites from 1766 on, mostly spelled muffin]

The OED3 (Sept. 2008) entry for North American English muffin (under English) is telling. Its frst cite:

1842   Great Western Mag. Apr. 177   In the deep well of a blue-edged disclosed that dream of farinaceous enjoyment, the English muffin.

I read this is having, not the name English muffin, but just the noun muffin, with English as a modifier, conveying roughly ‘the muffin, as this food is known in England’, so parallel to something like:

that afternoon delight, the English cream tea

But the next cite (plus those that follow) clearly has English muffin as a lexical item, a kind of proper name:

1896   R. Baxter Receipt Bk. for Bakers 22   These are the genuine English Muffins that were introduced into Chicago during the World’s Fair.

Other uses of muffin. There are, of course, other senses of the word. For instance, the metaphorical slang muffin ‘vagina’. And a use that became current in the Usenet LGBT newsgroup soc.motss in its early days. From the soc.motss lexicon:

muffin: A member of the soc.motss community who reads but has never posted an article, or at least not under their own name. Usually used to refer to gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons.

(The image is of someone who is still “in the oven” on the newsgroup.)

And then there’s a use chronicled on this blog in a 10/4/12 posting “Stud muffin”. From which:

U.S. slang stud ‘a sexually successful man’ (attested in Green’s Dictionary of Slang from the early 19th century) or ‘a man as a sexual performer’ (in Green from 1961 on) + muffin ‘an admirable person’ (U.S. campus slang from 1976 on) = stud muffin  (or stud-muffin or studmuffin) ‘an exceptionally successful and attractive person’ (campus slang, in Green from 1989 on), in my experience usually a man.

(Here, stud is a straightforward metaphor. But the development of muffin in this case is not so clear; perhaps the idea is that a muffin is an especially tasty food item.)

2 Responses to “Muffins”

  1. Dennis Preston Says:

    I thought “muffin” (=vagina) was (mistakenly) formed from “muff,” the (usually) furry hand-warmer.

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