Mumbo Jumbo – Origin and Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

“Mumbo jumbo” sounds quirky and nonsensical because, well, it is. It’s actually a real phrase recognized by all dictionaries, but the meaning of it is literally confusing and nonsensical. Don’t worry, I’ll explain what I mean in this guide so you have a better understanding of the term mumbo jumbo and will know how to use it correctly.

Meaning of Mumbo Jumbo

Mumbo Jumbo Origin Meaning

“Mumbo jumbo” can be anything! We’re talking about language, ideas or any kind of practice. The difference in what makes these things mumbo jumbo is when they’re complicated or confusing. If a process seems too difficult to understand, then you can call it mumbo jumbo.

The first thing that comes to my mind is reading terms and services agreements when you buy a new phone or set up a new service—pages and pages of information, loopholes, rules, etc. After a few paragraphs, it starts to sound nonsensical in your head, especially when they throw in a bunch of terms no one understands. So, it’s all mumbo jumbo.

Mumbo Jumbo Origin/Etymology

This quirky term is rooted in West African culture and derives from an 18th-century Gambian word, “maamajomboo,” and is what they’d named a senseless god who would wear a mask and scare women or other villagers into submission. It was even used in religious rituals and ceremonies concerning settling disputes and doling out punishment.

It didn’t take long for the term or idea to migrate over to America, where 18th and 19th colonists used it to describe a “superstitious object of senseless worship.”

Is Mumbo Jumbo Offensive?

No, not really. But, like many other words in the English language, it just depends on how it’s used. If you’re reading a long contract filled with words you don’t understand and complicated terms, you could say, “Ah, this is all mumbo jumbo.” But if you were having a conversation with someone or listening to a speech of some kind and interrupted by saying, “You’re talking mumbo jumbo,” then it might come across as offensive, for sure. Just use your words kindly.

Synonyms for Mumbo Jumbo

  • Gibberish
  • Nonsense
  • Gobbledygook
  • Jargon
  • Double-talk
  • Balderdash

Mumbo Jumbo Examples in a Sentence

Mumbo Jumbo Origin Meaning 1
  • The politician’s speech was filled with so much mumbo jumbo that it was difficult to understand her actual stance on the issue asked about in the debate.
  • After reading the legal document for buying our home, I was left scratching my head at all the mumbo jumbo and complex language.
  • Don’t bother me with all that astrological mumbo jumbo; I don’t believe in it. 
  • The instructions for assembling the IKEA furniture were nothing but a bunch of mumbo jumbo, and it was nearly impossible to put it together correctly.
  • Sheldon tried to explain the scientific theory, but it sounded like a load of mumbo jumbo to Penny, who didn’t have a background in science.
  • The old conspiracy theorist’s arguments were mostly mumbo jumbo, with no basis in fact or logic.

Mumbo Jumbo Is in the Eye of the Beholder

So, what I consider mumbo jumbo might be easy for the next person to understand. With that thought, the whole idea behind it means that you determine what is and isn’t mumbo jumbo. But at least now you understand what it truly means and can wield it with correctness!