an assault or threat of violence upon a person, especially with intent to rob.

Origin of mugging

First recorded in 1840–50; mug + -ing1




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, mug·ging.

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, mug·ging.

Slang. to grimace; exaggerate a facial expression, as in acting.

Origin of mug

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 confusedburglarize mug rip off rob steal (see synonym study at rob) Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for mugging

rob, assault, steal

Examples from the Web for mugging

Contemporary Examples of mugging

Historical Examples of mugging

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

    The Sign of the Spider

    Bertram Mitford

  • I hear from Mr Cookson that you have been mugging lately, just as I have.

  • They were chortling, pointing at each other, mugging for the camera.


    Cory Doctorow

  • I've been mugging away for the Diplomatic and I've just made an awful ass of myself.

    Sinister Street, vol. 2

    Compton Mackenzie

  • This is known as a "mugging" camera and various types are on the market.

    The Science of Fingerprints

    Federal Bureau of Investigation

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 for mug

C16: probably from Scandinavian; compare Swedish mugg




slang a person's face or mouthget your ugly mug out of here!
slang a grimace
British slang a gullible person, esp one who is swindled easily
a mug's game a worthless activity

verb mugs, mugging or mugged

(tr) informal to attack or rob (someone) violently
(intr) British slang to pull faces or overact, esp in front of a camera
See also mug up

Word Origin for mug

C18: perhaps from mug 1, 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

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