has several different words mullet, with distinct meanings and etymologies.
The Oxford English Dictionary has entries for seven nouns with nine
senses and one verb of that form.
To those ten meanings of mullet, two more have recently been added
that are not yet recorded in dictionaries but have been the subject
of articles in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune and are
the focus of a number of energetically competing World Wide Web
sites (mulletjunky.com; MulletLovers.com; mulletmadness.com; and
others) as well as a recent book, The Mullet: Hairstyle of the Gods,
by Mark Larson and Barney Hoskyns (Bloomsbury, 2000).
The new uses of mullet are for (1) "a hairstyle with the hair cut
short on the sides and in the front, but long and flowing down the
back neck" and (2) "someone wearing his (usually it’s a male) hair
in that style." The style is associated with trailer parks, six
packs of beer, a package of unfiltered cigarettes tucked in the
rolled-up sleeve of a T-shirt, country- western music, chicken-fried
steak, pick-up trucks with deer rifles across the rear window, motorcycles,
and NASCAR. Those who sport or have sported the mullet include Michael
Bolton, Billy Ray Cyrus (singer of the memorable "Achy Breaky Heart"),
Larry Fortensky (Liz Taylor’s husband number 9), Mel Gibson, Hulk
Hogan, Brad Pitt, and David Spade, star of the recent movie Joe
Dirt, in which the mullet "do" is a plot element.
names reported for the "do" include ape drape, b and t (bridge and
tunnel), Canadian passport, country singer, hockey head, Kentucky
waterfall, Missouri compromise, mud flap, short-long, Tennessee
top hat, 10/90 (the proportion of hair between front and back),
and two-haircuts-in-one. Some of those terms are suggestive of the
hairdo’s appearance, but the most frequent name is mullet.
Where does the name of the mullet hairdo come from? And why? Those
are questions so far without reliable answers. In an amazon.com
editorial review of The Mullet: Hairstyle of the Gods, an act of
naming is reported: "‘There’s nothing quite as bad as a bad haircut.
And perhaps the worst of all is the cut we call the mullet.’ So
wrote the Beastie Boys in Grand Royal magazine, coining a phrase
that has now entered into the pop culture lexicon."
Whoever may have given the name, the questions remain of where it
comes from and why it was applied. Of the OED’s seven nouns, it
seems highly probable that the hair style derives its name from
the mullet fish: "any fish of the families Mullidæ, or red mullets,
and Mugilidæ, or grey mullets" (OED) The or "any of a family (Mugilidae)
of valuable chiefly marine food fishes with an elongate rather stout
body" (yourDictionary.com), a sense attested in English since 1440.
Encyclopædia Britannica (CD edition) reports that mullets "generally
inhabit salt water or brackish water and frequent shallow, inshore
areas, commonly grubbing about in the sand or mud for microscopic
plants, small animals, and other food. They are silvery fishes .
. . with large scales; relatively stocky, cigar-shaped bodies; forked
tails; and two distinct dorsal fins . . . . Many have strong, gizzard-like
stomachs . . . ."
from any fancied analogies between the mullet fish of the EB’s description
and the physiognomy or behavioral patterns of mullet wearers of
the hairdo, it is possible that the typical outward flaring of the
hair on either side of the back neck was seen as analogous to the
"forked tails" of the fish. But there is another possibility.
related term in America is mullet or mullethead meaning "fool, blockhead,
numskull, foolish person." It is recorded in Jonathan E. Lighter’s
Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, along with the
related adjective mulletheaded. According to the OED, in America,
a "freshwater fish with a large flat head" is called a mullethead.
The OED illustrates the term with the following citations:
Harper’s Magazine Sept. 537/1 Dat fish is a mullet-head; it
hain’t got any brains.
J. H. Beadle Undeveloped West v. 102 There is a fish called
the mullethead, that cannot be intoxicated by any amount of
1893 W. Forbes-Mitchell Reminiscences of the Great Mutiny vi.
110 That fish, my son, is called a mullet-head: it has got no
might seem that mullethead "fool" came from mullethead "fish" (since
the naming of human beings characterized by their behavior according
to a metaphorical resemblance with animals is common). But mulletheaded
"foolish" is recorded from 1857, seven years before mullethead "fish":
"The men, for the most part sleepy, ignorant, mullet-headed looking
wretches"; so it is not clear whether the fool was named for the
fish, or the fish for the fool.
further complicate matters, in connection with the American mullethead
"stupid person," the OED reports that Joseph Wright’s English Dialect
Dictionary records mull-head "a dull, stupid fellow." That term
may be connected with a rare and obsolete verb mull "to dull, stupefy,"
used by Shakespeare among others, or it may be related to the verb
mull "to grind to a powder, pulverize," as in mulled wine. So the
American mullethead "fool" may be from the English dialect mull-head,
blended with the fish term mullet by clang association.
suggested here about the origin of mullet and its related, or at
least similar, terms is the rankest speculation. In fact, we do
not know. Mullet is a mystery.