View OED entry

mullet noun earlier than 1994

The OED defines mullet as ‘A hairstyle, worn esp. by men, in which the hair is cut short at the front and sides, and left long at the back.’ It was certainly popularized, if not coined, by the hip-hop group the Beastie Boys, whose song ‘Mullet Head’ is the first known use of the term:

You wanna know what’s a mullet? Well I got a little story to tell About a hair style, that’s way of life.

1994 Beastie Boys Mullet Head (song)

It is often claimed that the term derives from mullet-head, a colloquial reference to a stupid person. But a 1995 article in Grand Royal, a magazine published by the Beastie Boys,  proposes several other, largely humorous origins, including a relationship with the mullet fish.

Can you help find an earlier example of mullet? Or any proof that it truly was coined by the Beasties?

Posted by OED_Editor on 22 April 2013 13.30
Comments: 4

  • ROBERT FARREN

    “Mullet” is most definitely older than 1994. I think you’ll find instances of it in the 80s. I seem to remember a journalist in Dublin using the word in conversation with me in about 1988, when I was 18. She felt that my haircut was worthy of sarcasm. This cannot have happened any later than 1988, since I grew out said haircut. Sorry I can’t give you a written instance, but if you read everything written in the mid- to late-80s by the journalist Anne Harris in the Sunday Independent, Dublin, you’re likely to find it, well before 1994. If this was a cool new term in her speech then it also occurs in her journalism, you can be sure of it.

  • Ian

    An Australian colloquialism. A excerpt from the Australian National University website:

    mullet: like a stunned mullet

    Dazed, confused, bewildered. The phrase, first recorded in the 1950s, alludes to the goggle-eyed stare (and sometimes gaping mouth) of a fish that has been recently caught and made unconscious. A person typically looks like a stunned mullet as the result of a sudden shock or surprise.
    http://andc.anu.edu.au/australian-words/meanings-origins

    Further reference: 2008 Wilkes, G.A., Stunned Mullets & Two-pot Screamers: A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms, 5th edn of Wilkes 1996, Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

  • Bryn_OED

    Whilst Australia’s former Prime Minister is rarely seen as a leading advocate of the `Mullet’ hairstyle, <a href=
    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=gn9ul3LHiv4C&pg=PT1017&lpg=PT1017&dq=%22bob+hawke%22+mullet&source=bl&ots=BhpJMnNAV6&sig=_gKYFfVpU-1dhWiFVty9OFeRBAg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=26-nUaGPC87w0gWV_4CoDw&ved=0CFMQ6AEwCA” title=” Grossberg et al. (1992)”> Grossberg et
    al.
    (1992) do note, in an excerpt from Forbes, J. (1988) The Stunned Mullet & Other Poems , Sydney, Hale & Iremonger, an interesting comparison between Hawke’s hairstyle and the appearance of a mullet:

    The Stunned Mullet
    … [under a distant, benign regard
    only the fish thinks odd, because] up close
    the scales are false
    in fact a cunning mechanical contrivance,
    Like Bob Hawke’s hair
    they glitter, exposed to the atmosphere
    instead of dying, being alloy not flesh

    Whilst <`alloy’ would refer to the grey of Hawke’s locks, `cunning mechanical contrivance’ is more likely to refer to the exuberance of his hairstyles.

  • Cerian Griffiths