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Last updated at 10:20 BST, Wednesday, 22 September 2010



John Ayto explains the origin, meaning and use of the word 'minging'.

A group of girls


There's no getting away from it. We human beings seem to be at our most inventive when we're thinking up words to insult each other with. A select list of adjectives we've applied over the past hundred years to people or things we find disgusting would include 'scroungy', 'skanky', 'manky', 'icky', 'grotty', 'grungy', 'poxy', 'scuzzy', 'onkus' (that's Australian), 'yucky', 'snotty', 'septic', 'gross'... I could go on.

One recent addition to this armoury of scorn is especially versatile and, given its history, fairly pungent. It's 'minging':

  • That curry he cooked up for us last night was really minging.

We have Scotland to thank for it. In Scottish English, 'ming' is an old word for a bad smell, so originally 'minging' meant 'smelly' - as it still can.

But of course calling someone smelly is a perfect way of insulting them, and around the year 2000 British teenagers started using it more broadly to mean 'disgusting'. It can also mean 'ugly' or 'unattractive', and in an interesting development similar to 'stinking', you can use it to say someone is drunk:

  • He'd only had two pints and he was minging.

And along with 'minging' there's 'minger'. Now calling someone a minger is a really bad insult. It often implies 'ugly person'. If you said someone's girlfriend was a minger you'd be at serious risk of a punch on the nose.

About John Ayto

John Ayto

John Ayto is a lexicographer and a writer on words and language. He began his dictionary career as one of the editors of the first edition of the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, and over the past twenty years he has produced a range of his own books on the history and use of words, including the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins, the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang and Twentieth-Century Words, a survey of the new words that came into the English language during the twentieth century. He edited the 17th edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and he has broadcast extensively on lexical matters.