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mumbo jumbo

[ muhm-boh -juhm-boh ]
/ ˈmʌm boʊ ˈdʒʌm boʊ /
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noun, plural mum·bo jum·bos.
meaningless incantation or ritual.
senseless or pretentious language, usually designed to obscure an issue, confuse a listener, or the like.
an object of superstitious awe or reverence.
(initial capital letters) the guardian of western Sudan villages symbolized by a masked man who combats evil and punishes women for breaches of tribal laws.
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Origin of mumbo jumbo

First recorded in 1730–40; of disputed origin
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022

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More context on mumbo jumbo

When someone isn’t making any sense, we might joke that they’re talking mumbo jumbo. However, it may not originally mean “a whole lot of mumbling.”

Mumbo jumbo may come from maamajomboo, the Mandinka (a West African language) word for a masked male dancer who was involved in some arcane rituals.

The potential problem with mumbo jumbo, though, is that it may have historically likened the speech or customs of African peoples to “nonsense,” as if unintelligible or amusing in some way to the European colonists who introduced or modified maamajomboo into the English language.

If knowing the history of mumbo jumbo has got you reflecting on your word choices, this slideshow, “These Common Words Have Offensive Histories,” discusses many other words whose place in your vocab you may want to reconsider. 

Keep in mind …

You might want to avoid using mumbo jumbo due to its potentially offensive implications and past. Some words you can consider instead of mumbo jumbo—for the many times we all mutter on in incomprehensible lingo or babble incoherently—include gibberish, hogwash, hocus-pocus, or gobbledygook.

Make sense of more nonsense words over at Thesaurus.com.

How to use mumbo jumbo in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for mumbo jumbo

mumbo jumbo
/ (ˈmʌmbəʊ) /

noun plural mumbo jumbos
foolish religious reverence, ritual, or incantation
meaningless or unnecessarily complicated language
an object of superstitious awe or reverence

Word Origin for mumbo jumbo

C18: probably from Mandingo mama dyumbo, name of a tribal god
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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