Mulligan is an idiom that appeared in the first half of the twentieth century. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words, or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom mulligan, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

A mulligan is a do-over, a second chance to perform, another try to accomplish an action. The idiom mulligan was first used in the sport of golf during the 1930s and has now evolved into everyday usage. One may be said to take a mulligan if he makes a second attempt at something, or one may be said to be given a mulligan if he is allowed to make a second attempt in place of the first attempt. The mulligan, or second attempt, replaces the first attempt; it is as if the first attempt had never happened. A mulligan is only invoked in friendly games; it is not allowed in regulation golf. Several stories address the origin of the term mulligan, the most plausible credit either the Canadian golfer, David Bernard Mulligan, or a golf locker room attendant, Buddy Mulligan, both active during the 1920s-1930s. Note that the idiom mulligan, though derived from a proper name, is spelled with a lowercase m.


The Maine State Golf Association and golf courses hoped Governor Janet Mills would take a mulligan on her decision to classify golf as a non-essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic, but her decision to close golf courses for the month of April still stands after an appeal. (The Lewiston Sun Journal)

Some of those voters would have liked to take a mulligan and vote over again once their candidates dropped out shortly before Election Day. (The Antelope Valley Press)

“I suppose that I give him a mulligan on the Booker and Marshall situations in the same way that evangelicals gave Donald Trump a mulligan on disrespect for family and women,” Demmer said. (The Colorado Independent)

“That is obstruction of justice and the President is fortunate that in substance Bob Mueller gave him a mulligan” (The Business Insider)

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