Geoff Pullum presents an interesting conundrum at the Log:
In 1934, the philologist A. S. C. Ross wrote a review of the 1933 Oxford English Dictionary Supplement (Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 35: 128-132) in which he referred to taboo words as “mumfordish” vocabulary. He used the same word again in the same year in a short note in Transactions of the Philological Society (volume 33, issue 1, page 99), and again made it clear that for him it was a synonym for “taboo” or “obscene” as applied to lexical items. Charlotte Brewer of Oxford University, an expert on the history of the OED (author of Treasure-house of the Language: The Living OED and creator of the marvellous Examining the OED website), mentioned in a paper presented at the ISLE-1 conference in Freiburg last week that she was baffled by the word mumfordish. So am I. Can any Language Log reader shed serious (rather than speculative) light on its etymology?
I join him in the quest, except that I welcome speculation as well as solemn scholarship. My guess is that the reference is to Lewis Mumford, who was already well known as a literary critic and authority on architecture and urban life by 1934, but of course it could be to some now-forgotten person or literary character of that name, perhaps even a personal acquaintance of Ross’s (although it seems unlikely that in those buttoned-down days a scholar would make a puckish personal reference that his readers had no hope of deciphering). I was briefly encouraged when I discovered that Lewis Mumford had a book called Sticks and Stones (1924), but it turns out to be about American architecture. Any suggestions?