Definition of hugger-mugger in English:


Pronunciation /ˈhəɡərˌməɡər/

See synonyms for hugger-mugger


  • 1Confused; disorderly.

    ‘a spirit of careless frivolity where all was hugger-mugger’
    • ‘Leon's sister Helene Mar had herself acted in the silent film era, then spent the rest of her life creating artistes - her hugger-mugger brother, her daughters, who became dancers, and pre-eminently, Johnny.’
    • ‘It has taken a little over a fortnight for a large group of adults to regress to that institutional hugger-mugger one first encountered at boarding school at the age of eight.’
    • ‘A hugger-mugger horizontal tenement of ugly, awkward, moulded plastic bathroom fittings bobbing in cess.’
    • ‘He is not a heartless man, but he insisted that folk who lived hugger-mugger 12 feet below sea level and refused to budge, even when the mayor ordered them out, should not be surprised to drown.’
    • ‘Inside, arranged hugger-mugger on a selection of chairs and boxes, are the NCO instructors.’
    • ‘Socially, the fabric is often as fragmented as the physical one, with immigrants from rural areas or from abroad mixed hugger-mugger with some of the least privileged traditional citizens.’
    disorderly, confused, disorganized, chaotic, muddled, haphazard, in a mess, in a shambles, in disarray, topsy-turvy, at sixes and sevens
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  • 2Secret; clandestine.

    ‘there was no longer the hugger-mugger anecdote, or any juicy elbow-gripping gossip’
    • ‘He successfully pursued this hugger-mugger strategy in 1810.’
    • ‘I hated going hugger-mugger in the car because I wanted to read and this was impossible with elbows and knees stuck across your face.’
    • ‘It is a hugger-mugger bubbling pot of intrigue, smuggling, poverty, filth and some of the best food in Asia.’
    clandestine, secret, covert, furtive, cloak-and-dagger, hole-in-the-corner, behind-the-scenes, under-the-table, sneaky, sly, underhand
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  • 1Confusion; muddle.

    ‘the vast hugger-mugger of alleys’
    • ‘The room is a hugger-mugger of tables with a bar, and pictures of Iberians in pink knickerbockers doing painful things to ungulates.’
    • ‘A few degrees left, and the hugger-mugger of the Old Town resolved itself into an open garret window here, with orange curtains, or there, a ladder leaning precipitously from a roof up onto a disorderly row of chimney pots.’
  • 2Secrecy.

    ‘he declared war on hugger-mugger and conspiracy, clandestine deals sealed in back rooms’
    • ‘And the plot wandered and annoyed, piling on new mystical hugger-mugger… but when it came to the end, it hit me like an anvil in the sternum.’
    • ‘After Polonius and Ophelia have both died violently and been buried ‘in hugger-mugger,’ as Claudius tells Gertrude, the mistreatment of the dead is shocking indeed.’
    • ‘This may have helpfully covered up some of the (to rephrase Proust) intermittences of the art, but it also increased the sense of hugger-mugger.’
    • ‘And how come when we first meet Tomas in his young monkhood, as when we last see him after the erotic hugger-mugger, he is naked except for a diaper?’
    • ‘The party likes to style itself as a big tent, which goes some way towards explaining its obsession with inviting big business for a hugger-mugger under canvas at the Galway races.’
    • ‘Hugger-mugger is part of life, especially under modern political conditions.’


Early 16th century (in hugger-mugger (sense 2 of the noun)): probably related to huddle and to dialect mucker ‘hoard money, conceal’. This is one of a number of similar formations from late Middle English to the 16th century, including hucker-mucker and hudder-mudder, with the basic sense ‘secrecy, concealment’.