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Idiom: Ugly Mug

The origin of the phrase "ugly mug"

Have you ever used or heard the phrase “ugly mug” to reference a face? For instance, “It’s been five long years since I’ve seen your ugly mug!”


This phrase originated in the Georgian era. It was a playful reference to the popular Toby Jugs or Fillpots of the 18th century.


The Toby Jug was first produced in the 1760s in Staffordshire and became wonderfully popular. The Toby Jug was a pottery pitcher for beer shaped like the face of a not-so-handsome man. Towards the end of the 18th century, instead of just being faces, the mugs enlarged to be the full figure of a seated man, typically smoking a pipe or drinking.


The word “mug” wasn’t yet used in most of England to describe a large cup—“jug” was used instead—although it was used similarly in Scotland and Northern England already. The Toby Jug was, thus, often called a Toby Mug further north. Why “mug” replaced “jug” further south is debatable, but it was more likely it came about of its own accord via rhyming slang than it spread south.  


Long story short, the “mug” with a face was so popular that “mug” became slang for “face” during the Georgian era. Saying someone had an “ugly mug” was and still is typically used tongue-in-cheek as a tease between friends, not an insult.


Can you hear our storybook heroes ribbing their friends with this tease?



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