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"Le Figaro"
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"Wall Street Journal"
"The Citizen"

The Mullet


By Miranda

In Roman times the red mullet was a prized dish - eaten, even cultivated as a pet. The red mullet are not, however, the same as the common, or grey, mullet which, nonetheless, has been a major food source in coastal waters for even longer. There are any number of great recipes for cooking mullet - or, indeed, not cooking it but salting it then 'cooking' it in a vinegar or citrus juice. Yum!

So how, I wonder, did we move from this common but productive fish to the hairstyle pioneered by David Bowie? You remember, the hairstyle that was short at the front and sides but long at the back, although the rock-star variety tended to be a bit longer all round and much more bouffant. And yes, I was around at the time, but no, I did not ever wear a mullet, or even a pixie cut at the time. No, honestly!

The interesting part is that I always think of the style as a 'mullet', even though the actual word mullet, as applied to hair, only came into use in the 90s. It took a bit of research and delving though old editions of dictionaries before I was willing to concede that I could not have used that word for the hairstyle back in the 80s no matter how convinced I was that I had done so. Interesting how we edit our word-memories, isn't it.


David Bowie rocks a mullet

David Bowie rocks an 80s mullet


What hasn't changed since the word made the dictionaries is the faintly negative connotations, and by the 90s a mullet was no longer the rock star crop of choice, though it persisted in Country music circles.

But now the mullet is so unassailably part of the language that the word has moved on from hair to describing the dress, waltzing down catwalks for the last few seasons, of which the skirt is short at the front but descends, in some cases, to train-length at the rear.


Jessica Alba models the mullet dress

Jessica Alba wearing a mullet dress
Image source:

Some things do not change. I'm not wearing a mullet this time either.

Do you recall any words the meaning of which has changed in your lifetime?




21 Responses to

The Mullet

kragzy said:
February 29, 2012 at 12:06 PM

The one that immediately comes to mind is gay. And no, I have never worn a mullet. As a child I was often gay (happy) but nowadays most definitely never gay - not even for a nanosecond!

mommyscat said:
February 29, 2012 at 12:27 PM

I have to agree with Kragzy on that. I remember singing the Flintstones theme song. We'll have a gay old time, as a child but I can't bring myself to sing it now because of the conotations of the modern usage of the word gay.



Miranda said:
February 29, 2012 at 1:10 PM

Yes, 'gay' is a perfect example of how language moves - though we don't need to be nervous about its use as there's nothing derogatory in it meaning 'happy & gleeful' and 'homosexual' (apart from the playground tendency of some young people to make anything 'other' into an insult)

daffydill said:
February 29, 2012 at 3:54 PM

I was definitely around at the time of those hairstyles and, in recent times when I heard them referred to as 'mullets', I thought I must have been living under a stone as I could not recall them being called 'mullets' back them. What a relief to read that it only became popular in the 90's. Another word where the meaning has changed is 'sex'. Once it was used to denote gender but now usually refers to the 'act'.

postie57 said:
March 01, 2012 at 2:21 AM

The first thing that comes to mind is grass and weed. From something you would mow or pull to get rid of, now is something you smoke. The list could go on and on. You picked a good topic Miranda.

synergy said:
March 01, 2012 at 5:09 AM

Nowdays if something is groovy it is called 'cool' it wasn't so long ago that it was 'hot'. Now I am perplexed, because when I was a child these words measured temperatures.

Xrosie said:
March 01, 2012 at 7:57 AM

David Bowie is the only one to look COOL in a mullet, the rest looked "daggie" not cool or groovie. 60's lingo,

Ken said:
March 01, 2012 at 3:16 PM

It would seem that having a "sick" time is no longer feeling unwell, rather to have had a good one!

caff said:
March 02, 2012 at 1:28 PM

In my day if you were 'mad' you were very angry or you had mental problems. My children say "The concert was mad" " Her new hair cut is mad" "We had a mad time" " My new dress looks mad" Apparently it means great or very good!

grantdood said:
March 02, 2012 at 2:07 PM

The concert being 'mad' is ok. They have been 'raving' after all. :)

Phocaena said:
March 02, 2012 at 7:21 PM

Booty used to mean loot and the American term "Rooting for you, has a totally different meaning in UK or Australia

March 04, 2012 at 7:46 AM

Even way back in history,50's and 60's,the word swell meant a rise or increase in wave action and also that something or a situation good.A large swell meant better waves and the word crept into everyday use.

March 04, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Miranda, I think your memory is right. "Mullet" was definitely in common usage in Melbourne in the mid-1980s. I remember it well because it was my nickname among my circle of friends - despite being one of the few not to have a mullet! I think it just took a few years for lexicographers to accept that the usage was here to stay!



Miranda said:
March 05, 2012 at 10:20 AM

Thanks, combatwombat. I'm not losing my memory, then. Does this mean that Australia gave the mullet to the world? The name for the hairstyle, that is?

kragzy said:
March 05, 2012 at 11:40 AM

Since there seems to be a theme running through this thread (is it something about Youplayers?) I might as well continue, though please don't think that I am obsessed with it. The word 'intercourse' has definitely had a change in meaning. The famous village in Pennsylvania (which btw is near the villages of Bird-in-Hand, Blue Ball and Paradise!!) illustrates the point. Intercourse once meant social interaction, chatting and conversation, involving several or many people. I don't think that is what it means now.

March 05, 2012 at 4:51 PM

I think it's American, though its etymology is pretty vague. The Chambers Dictionary (11th ed) defines it as (truly): "a hairstyle that is short at the front, long at the back and ridiculous all around". Chambers suggests it might have come from "mullethead" (a fool), but Wikipedia suggests it might have more to do with the Beastie Boys or Sam Malone in Cheers.

March 06, 2012 at 1:32 PM

We used to hear only of "viruses" that made people and animals ill. But your computer can now get them. Panadol and hot lemon drink for your PC?

no1llama said:
March 06, 2012 at 2:53 PM

Intercourse is still acceptable either as a social or sexual interaction with another or others... Mullets were definitely here in the 80's, I remember all the bogans had them! Words we manufactured that became part of common language include the likes of Fantabulous(fantastically fabulous), Ginormous (gigantically enormous), Wismas(winter christmas). I don't know that we alter our word memories, I think that sometimes we just accept that it must be true because we read it in a book... Also, out of curiosity, how long does it take for a word to gain approval to be allowed as a new word into the dictionary? I promise not to unfriend you if you don't reply!

kragzy said:
March 07, 2012 at 11:13 AM

Great post no1llama, although I'm not sure anyone accepts intercourse as meaning social interaction these days. We have many dinner parties (my wife loves to entertain) which often end up with us sitting around on the deck watching the water birds (we live in a pocket of secret beauty beside a lake). If I were to say at the end of the meal, "let's go out on the deck for some intercourse", I think our friends may be in need of an ambulance.

thekoala said:
March 07, 2012 at 1:37 PM

A couple of words spring to mind. When I was young, to 'swipe' meant you stole something now we do it every day with our $$$ cards. A 'fag' was something you lit and smoked. New words sneak in too like 'guesstimation', an estimation that's really only a guess. Oh and for the record David Bowie can still be heard from time to time belting out from my house!

April 25, 2012 at 8:33 PM

there is only one Mullet and that is a fish,