Dave Wilton at has a thorough investigation of the origins of the golf term mulligan, meaning “an extra stroke allowed after a bad shot in a friendly game.” I admit I was skeptical when I read his opening statement that “it seems that mulligan actually made its way into golf from baseball, after a fictional long-ball hitter named Swat Milligan or Mulligan,” but by the time I finished it I was convinced. Here are some excerpts:

Swat Milligan was the creation of New York Evening World sportswriter Bozeman Bulger in 1908. Milligan was the stuff of tall tales, a Paul Bunyan or John Henry of baseball. The earliest appearance of Milligan in the Evening World that I have found is from 26 May 1908 […] But Swat Milligan was too big a character to be confined to the pages of the Evening World. By 6 August 1908 sportswriters of the Trenton Evening Times in New Jersey were writing about his visiting and watching the Trenton team play, but the name was switched to Mulligan, either through error or to avoid potential copyright infringement […] And by the end of the decade, mulligan was being used to mean a hard-hit ball. […]

The term jumps to golf later that year with a pair of articles by sportswriter William Abbott in the Evening World in which he dubs two different golfers as the Swat Mulligan of the links. […]

And in the Detroit Free Press of 13 October 1931, we see mulligan applied to a do-over golf stroke for the first time. The passage is about New York Yankee Sammy Byrd playing in a pro-am golf tournament:

All were waiting to see what Byrd would do on the 290-yard 18th, with a creek in front of the well-elevated green. His first drive barely missed carrying the creek and he was given a “mulligan” just for fun. The second not only was over the creek on the fly but was within a few inches of the elevated green. That’s some poke!

Note that the general use here is that of a long drive from the tee, but the particular context is that of a handicap of a free stroke, so this is a transitional use of the word.

See the linked post for details and discussion of alternative hypotheses; I should reproduce Dave’s disclaimer: “The etymology of mulligan was unearthed by Peter Reitan and published in his blog in 2017. What I present here is mostly the fruits of his work.”


  1. David Marjanović says

    Yet another American mystery traced to baseball.

  2. John Emerson says

    I don’t know why people didn’t think of this immediately. but: The Former Guy was famous for taking mulligans in golf, whether the others players wanted him to or not (ie, he was famous for cheating). What he’s trying to do now is take a mulligan on the 2020 election.

  3. I wonder what a “Mulligan” may mean in this early use:

    “What chance has a man in San Francisco against this infernal patent box which they have brought into use. Honest people may go and vote , but a “Mulligan” can neutralize all their votes by a single touch of this complicated machinery.”

    Page 64 in {WorldCat description:]
    San Francisco vigilance committee of ’56,
    with some interesting sketches of events succeeding 1846.
    Frank Meriweather Smith
    English Book 83 pages 23 cm
    San Francisco, Cal., Barry, Baird & Co.,
    Brief history of San Francisco and its response to lawless conditions. In 1851, the citizens formed a Vigilance Committee to rid the city of criminals. It tried and hung murderers. Again in 1856, stimulated by the murder of James King of William, citizens formed another Vigilance Committee. This Committee tried and hung murders, forced many crimiinals to leave, and confronted state authority before disbanding.

    (Btw, I may get around to questioning Prof. Wilton’s 26 May 2021 revision entry of “on the fritz/on the blink.”)

  4. That use has nothing to do with the sports one; it’s just somebody’s name. From a few pages later in that book:

  5. David Marjanović says

    “What chance has a man in San Francisco against this infernal patent box which they have brought into use. Honest people may go and vote , but a “Mulligan” can neutralize all their votes by a single touch of this complicated machinery.”

    That’s why so few countries other than the US have ever introduced voting machines.

  6. Ahem:

    Electronic Voting is the standard means of conducting elections using Electronic Voting Machines, sometimes called “EVMs” in India. The use of EVMs and electronic voting was developed and tested by the state-owned Electronics Corporation of India and Bharat Electronics in the 1990s. They were introduced in Indian elections between 1998 and 2001, in a phased manner. Prior to the introduction of electronic voting, India used paper ballots and manual counting. The paper ballots method was widely criticised because of fraudulent voting and booth capturing, where party loyalists captured booths and stuffed them with pre-filled fake ballots. The printed paper ballots were also more expensive, requiring substantial post-voting resources to count hundreds of millions of individual ballots. Embedded EVM features such as “electronically limiting the rate of casting votes to five per minute”, a security “lock-close” feature, an electronic database of “voting signatures and thumb impressions” to confirm the identity of the voter, conducting elections in phases over several weeks while deploying extensive security personnel at each booth have helped reduce electoral fraud and abuse, eliminate booth capturing and create more competitive and fairer elections.

  7. Though note, a “Mulligan” is in quotes. (Liverpool Jack, not.) And this election tampering (bogus re-do?) was fairly well known. Maybe; maybe not.

  8. It’s not in quotes when paired with Liverpool Jack, and people used quotes freely in those days (and, for that matter, now) — it’s useless to try to draw specific conclusions from them. The phrase “a ‘Mulligan’” can just mean “someone like that Mulligan fellow.” And I don’t understand what election tampering, well known or not, has to do with sports; “bogus re-do” is a pretty desperate attempt to connect dots separated by many decades.

  9. From Mulligan (or Milligan) hitting well hard and long to M. taking an extra, post-flub shot is no leap?

  10. The intermediate steps are documented in the linked post. The evidence makes all the difference; one can imagine all the transitions one likes.

  11. David Marjanović says


    Interesting. I guess finding and hiring enough reliably impartial police or installing a few tens of millions of security cameras wasn’t an option in India?

  12. It’s not just India that uses them. There’s nothing inherently unreliable about voting machines, there just need to be appropriate safeguards (as with most technology). All forms of voting are subject to fraud.

  13. Richard Hershberger says

    FWIW, after researching the origins of baseball vocabulary, the only part of this story I find unusual is that it begins with a fictional character. Vocabulary was swapped back and forth between baseball and other sports all the time. Not just sports, either. Theater gets more than its share, and other endeavors occasionally are added to the mix. “Doubleheader,” for example, was a railroad term. Fictional origins raise my suspicions mostly because they are too easily invented after the fact. On the other hand, “mascot” unquestionably comes from the French comic opera “La Mascotte.” Fiction isn’t off the table.

    The New York Evening World is, by the way, worth looking at. It was ostensibly the evening version of the World, but the two were editorially distinct. The World was very respectable, while the Evening World was populist. They make for a weird combination. I find the Evening World being the source of Mulligan entirely plausible.

    Also, Peter Reitan’s blog is excellent. It merits the attention of those interested in this kind of stuff.

  14. David Marjanović says

    All forms of voting are subject to fraud.

    Fraud is phenomenally hard to pull off in, like, western Europe, for this kind of reason. The “irregularities” that are taken for granted in the US amaze me to no end – they’re all avoidable.

  15. @ David Marjanović “The “irregularities” that are taken for granted in the US amaze me to no end.”

    What can be expected of a country that has still not adopted the metric system officially (though in the American medical field and in American science it is now general)?

    Liberia and Myanmar are the only other countries in the world in the same boat with the USA on that account.

  16. That’s one of the silliest false equivalences I’ve ever heard. I’d dig up a list of countries that use the metric system and yet manage to have thoroughly corrupt elections, but I’m too lazy and it’s too silly to bother.

  17. And of course there are no massive irregularities in US voting. The US electoral system is deeply stupid, but that has nothing to do with voting machines.

  18. David Marjanović says

    Uh, Russia has the metric system. The videos of all the ballot-box stuffing were hilarious.

    no massive irregularities

    But there are any at all. They’re hardly ever large enough to change the outcome, especially of national elections that we know of, but still.

  19. Oh, come on. There are irregularities everywhere, in everything. Are you seriously claiming that in (say) Austrian elections, every single vote is recorded perfectly and added properly and if the vote were counted again it would come out precisely the same? That’s simply impossible. It’s an imperfect world, and it’s the act of a pure partisan to point to somebody else’s imperfection and say “See? They’re imperfect and we’re perfect, so there!”

  20. I thought there might be something like “to pull a Mulligan,” (possibly anti-Irish?) but if I’m the only one, neveryoumind.
    There was a discussion of “to verb a PN” (e.g. pull a Lewinsky) somewhere, iirc—how old?
    Again, in the name, someone folk-guessed do ‘em-all-again. (Folk always wrong?) Cf. Finnegan.
    Whence “dubbed shot”? Cf. dubbed films, putatively from (sound) double. But if from doubled, pre-doubled (shot again)? Or an alternate sense of dub, verb?

  21. Additional to “On the Fritz at Sing Sing”
    [different view than dismissal of cold association]
    Of course “friz” is pronounced in different ways, as attested in the following two different rhymes.

    (1) A Sovereign Remedy
    Deep breathing is the thing to try if you are feeling slack;
    It brightens the lack-luster eye and straightens the back;….
    Deep breathing is the thing for you if you are on the fritz;
    It drives away the devils blue and sharpens up the wits;….
    –Washington Herald
    (Feb. 5 1908 Trenton [NJ] Evening Times p.6 col. 3 America’s Historic Newspapers)

    (2) Rudyard Kipling still adheres to his opinion of Canada as “Our Lady of the Snows.” He has sent the following skit to Lady Marjorie Gordon, the editor of “Wee Willie Winkie,” a juvenile magazine:
    “There was once a small boy of Quebec,
    Who was buried in snow to the neck.
    When asked: “Are you friz?”
    He replied: “Yes, I is.
    But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”
    –Albany Journal
    (July 23, 1897, Salt Lake [UT] Semi-Weekly Tribune, p. 4 col. F, 19th Century US Newspapers)

    I suggest that the personal name Fritz is not the origin of “on the friz/fritz.”

    From: American Dialect Society …Stephen Goranson …
    Sent: Thursday, August 14, 2014…
    Subject: [ADS-L] on the fritz–on the friz

    Previous suggested explanations of “on the fritz,” including one by me, are unpersuasive.

    Here is a new suggestion–at least I have not encountered it; please correct me if it has been offered before. If there’s interest, I may write a longer version with more quotations or references.

    “On the fritz” (and “on de fritz”) has also been written “on the friz.” Consider friz as related to freeze and frozen. The association obtains, whether analyzed as irregular irregular verb forms and/or via J. O. Hallowell’s listing “Friz–frozen” as attested in various dialects (1887 v.1 p.382 “All friz out, can’t get no groundsel”).

    Fritz, friz, frozen up, stopped, and the like.

    Possibly related uses [some may be of debatable relevance], in addition to those in OED June 2014 and HDAS:

    1880 “married or ‘fritz to’ the dark eyed senoritas”

    1886 “a friz nose”

    1891 “Fort’nate they [hands] friz to the oars”

    [1892 “Jimmy the Bunco” schemes to get a Thanksgiving dinner; the lemonade comes with “friz.” “‘I dunno as I cares on the friz,’ murmured ‘the Bunco’ thoughtfully. The word bore too close a resemblance to his general state of being.”]

    1897 “friz up all de creeks”

    1901 “getting t’ be on de Fritz”

    1901 “For everything ‘t was frizable, that year was friz.”

    1902 (source?) “Would Santa Claus be on the fritz/ if we never had snow?” [Ironic effect of lack of ice?]

    1904 Life in Sing Sing. “Fritzer. Not good.”

    1905 “He’s on the friz.” [Baseball player slump.]

    1905 “business goes on the fritz.”

    1905 “good manners done friz up”

    1905 four wagons “all to de fritz”

    1906 “is he straight, or is he on de fritz?”

    1908 “Deep breathing is the thing for you if you are on the friz.”

    1908 poem, “friz” rhyming with “wits.”

    1908 Munsey’s “our fat leading lady was on the friz”

    1909 “show is on de fritz”

    1912 “A poor man is friz out these days. Friz out, I say.”

    1912 “All the religion ‘ll be friz out of this c’mmunity.”

    1912 “I may talk on de fritz” [but won spelling bees]

  22. (warning; speculative)

    Which golfer Mulligan (if any) putatively gave the name to take a mulligan, a re-do swing, is disputed.
    (First, never mind the old ballad Finnegan’s Wake, published 1864.)
    An additional (post-Honeymooner) addressing the ball.
    Mull it over, again…

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